§ —On the order of the day for resuming the debate on the Corn-laws,
§ Mr. Hume
said, that although this was the fourth day of the present debate, he thought that too much time had not been occupied in the discussion of a question so important to the national interests. Among the questions which had long occupied his attention since he had been a Member of that House, that of a free trade in corn had been very prominent; and he had advocated not only a free trade in corn, but a free trade in every article of consumption. He had also advocated a reduction in the expenses of the country, corresponding with the natural change which took place at the conclusion of the war, and he had urged upon the House a return to the wholesome system which prevailed before the French war; and he had done this that the people might reap all the benefit of a return from a state of war to a state of peace. But the House had looked upon the question in a different point of view, and they had taken a different course and they had taken the most fatal step of all by passing the Corn-laws in 1815. If they had adopted that course which wisdom and policy pointed out, the landed proprietors. whose property had increased in value during the war, and whose rents had risen nearly double in amount, would have pursued a very different course. During the war, the profits of trade had been enormous, and the means of purchasing food had been doubled and trebled in price. In many cases, money was plentiful, and all persons seemed in prosperity. The only party that suffered was the public as a body, who were charged with the enormous debt. The Corn-laws had passed to limit the amount of food, and therefore it was that he always objected to them. What had been the result of the 716 laws passed in 1815? Why, although those laws had been passed avowedly with the view of securing steadiness of price in corn, and under the pretence of protecting the farmers and labourers, their only effect had been to keep up high rents and benefit the landed proprietors. This had been called a labourer's question, but it was a measure which separated the community into two classes—the one benefited by the increased rent of laud—the rest subsisting on what they derived from capital, from manufactures, from commerce. It was unjust, in as far as it taxed a large proportion of the people for the benefit of a few—it was unjust, in as far as it prevented the free application of capital to the means by which employment might be given in this country, and. it thus tended to lessen the power of the State by diminishing the means of paying the taxes. If ever there was a question more easy of solution than any other it was this. While the interest of the debt had increased from nine millions and a half to thirty millions at the close of the war—instead of contriving means by which the industry of the country might make these taxes light to the bulk of the people they actually added, in the form of Corn-laws, an additional tax, equal to half the interest of the national debt. It was his object to show that he was not alone in the view which he had taken, but that every individual who was of eminence as a political economist, would be found to bear out this opinion, and which he had always endeavoured to explain to the House. For twenty years he had on various occasions brought this subject before the House. Now, greater distress existed at the present time than perhaps at any former period. Every object for which the present Corn-laws had been passed had failed, and the farmers and their labourers, whom it was intended to protect, had been injured by its operation. He was thoroughly impressed, then, with the conviction that this law committed great injustice—that it was injurious to all classes, commercial and agricultural—and that it bad aggravated the evils which had existed in this country. What had been its result? Here they were, after twenty-five years of peace, with a population more wretched, and in greater distress in every part of the country, than at the period when the laws were enacted. He took upon himself, therefore, to say that the object which the authors of the measure had in view had entirely failed, and that it had brought those whom it pretended to 717 favour and protect (the farmers and the labourers) to a state of misery and distress. Why, since this law had passed, the attention of the House had been more frequently devoted to the consideration of agricultural distress than to any other subject. There had been no less than six committees to inquire into agricultural distress. The first of these was in the year 1820, a few years after the passing of a bill which restricted all importation till the price was raised to 80s. free of charge, being, in fact, in the then state of Europe, an entire prohibition to importation. In that year there was "a select committee to whom the several petitions presented to the House upon the subject of agricultural distress were referred, to consider the matter thereof, and report their opinion thereon" and the report said, "the committee consider that whilst the difference is so great between the continental and the British price of corn as at present, the latter being on an average double the price of the former, every temptation exists to get in a large quantity of foreign corn, and then to shut the ports." In 1821 a report was made from "the select committee, to whom the several petitions which have been presented to the House in this Session of Parliament, complaining of the depressed state of the agriculture of the United Kingdom, were referred, to inquire into the allegations thereof, and to report their observations thereon." In 1822 there was a report from "the select committee appointed to inquire into the allegations of the several petitions which have been presented to the House in the last and present Session of Parliament, complaining of the distressed state of the agriculture of the United Kingdom, and to report their observations thereupon to the House." In 1833 there was a report from "the select committee appointed to inquire into the present state of agriculture, and of persons employed in agriculture in the United Kingdom, and to whom several petitions presented on the subject of agriculture to the House were referred;" and in 1836 there was a report from "the select committee appointed to inquire ino the state of agriculture and into the causes and extent of the distress which still presses upon some important branches there of and who were empowered to report the minutes of the evidence taken before them from time to time to the House." But if he wished to give a correct estimate of the evils of the Corn-laws as affecting the manufacturing interests, he would select a passage from the report of the committee 718 which sat in 1821; and here he must remark that there was one point connected with the report of that year which was particularly deserving of remark; it was the production of a committee composed almost entirely of agricultural gentlemen. In that report it was said:—This system is certainly liable to sudden alterations of which the effect must be at one time to reduce prices already low, lower than they would probably have been under a state of free trade, and at another, unnecessarily to enhance prices already high, to aggravate the evils of scarcity, and to render more severe the depression of prices from abundance. On the one hand it deceives the grower with a false hope of a monopoly, and, by its occasional interruption, may lead to consequences which deprive him of the benefits of that monopoly when most wanted; on the other hand, it holds out to the country the prospect of an occasional free trade, but so regulated and desultory as to baffle the calculations and unsettle the transactions both of the grower and the dealer at home; to deprive the consumer of most of the benefits of such a trade and to involve the merchant in more than the ordinary risks of mercantile speculation. It exposes the markets of the country either to be occasionally overwhelmed with an inundation of foreign corn altogether disproportionate to its wants; or, in the event of any considerable deficiency in our own harvest, it creates a sudden competition on the continent, by the effect of which the prices are rapidly and unnecessarily raised against ourselves. But the inconvenient operation of the present Corn-law, which appears to be less the consequence of the quantity of foreign grain brought into this country, upon an average of years, than of the manner in which that grain is introduced, is not confined to great fluctuations in price, and consequent embarrassment both to the grower and consumer; for the occasional prohibition of import has also a direct tendency to contract the extent of our commercial dealings with other states, and to excite in the rulers of those states a spirit of permanent exclusion against the productions or manufactures of this country and its colonies.He had also the authority of the landlords for another most important admission:—When your committee," they said, "find, for instance, in the seventeen months which passed between January, 1816, and June, 1817, the price of wheat varying from 53s. ld. to 112s. 7d. or 111s. per quarter; and again, in the three months which ensued from June to September, 1817, from 112s. 7d. to 74s. or 51s. per quarter; they cannot but ask whether fluctuations so rapid and extensive have existed in any other community of universal supply and demand, or in any other country? 719 and whether these fluctuations may not have been aggravated by some of the effects of the present law?It might be said that those who had always argued against these laws might not be entitled on this point to much attention, but the statements which he had just read were made by those who were interested in maintaining opposite views. He affirmed, however, that the variation in the price of corn which these gentlemen admitted had taken place solely in consequence of the Corn-laws; the variations of price in countries of the Continent, where there were no such laws, as was the case in Holland till within the last few years, during an entire century, had been less than in our own country. In Holland, during 100 years, there had never been a variation of more than 40 per cent., and this was owing to peculiarly sterile or productive seasons, and excluding them, the variation had not been more than 15 per cent. In England, too, when we had no Corn-laws, from 1773 to 1793, during a period of twenty years, the variation had been very small compared with what had since taken place. It had not been more than 56 per cent., whilst since it had reached 113 per cent. He, therefore, contended that the great fluctuations which had since taken place were entirely owing to the Corn-laws. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke, quoted the calculations made by the committee of 1833, showing the great fluctuation in price from 1793 to 1814; but every one knew well that during that period the supply from abroad was limited by the interference of war and by the state of continental Europe. He held in his hand the extract which had been referred to by the right hon. Member for Pembroke of the variations during that period, but they were not much greater than the fluctuations which had been introduced by the new Corn-law. By that table it appeared that from 1817 to 1821 the variation had been 143 per cent. On the 28th of June, 1817, which was the highest price, the price reached 112s. 7d.; and on the 29th of December, 1821, which was the lowest, the price was only 46s. 2d. If they took the next five years they would find that the variation was 81 per cent.; but in the two years, 1827 and 1828, immediately preceding the alteration in the law, the variation was but 24 per cent. In short, although the greatest variation for the twenty years preceding 1793 only showed 720 a variation of 56 per cent., the variation in the years from 1815 to 1821, had been as high as 111 per cent.; and the variation during the last ten years, from 1828 to 1838, had reached 113¼ per cent. He had also a statement of the comparative averages of the price of corn in England and in France, from 1819 to 1838, and he found that the average difference between the price in the two countries was from 43 to 44 per cent. In many places the difference was 100 per cent., and in others 80 per cent., but the average difference was from 43 to 44 per cent. These, then, were the evils of the present laws, and he would now explain how the evils were to be remedied. After the reports of the committees to which he had referred, and which had sat in different years, from 1820 down to the present time, and after the documents which he had read had so distinctly shown what great variations and fluctuations had taken place, he could not see how hon. Gentlemen could persist in saying that a steady price had been kept up. And what effect had the law had on the interests of the farmers? They had been reduced by that very law to ruin and to beggary, which had caused in 1820, and in five subsequent years, committees to be appointed to take into consideration the distress of the agriculturists. And having produced this effect upon the farmers how had it affected the interests of the great body of the community? He thought it but justice to state, that this protective system first began with the manufacturers, and Adam Smith had expressed his opinion as to the short sighted policy of this system, and it would be well, perhaps, if hon. Gentlemen would hear what was said by him upon this part of the subject:—In every country," said Adam Smith "it always is, and must be, the interest of the great body of the people to buy whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest. The proposition is so very manifest, that it seems ridiculous to take any pains to prove it; nor could it ever have been called in question had not the interested sophistry of merchants and manufacturers, confounded the common sense of mankind. Their interest, is in this respect, directly opposite to that of the great body of the people.And what Adam Smith had said on the subject of manufactures, he would apply to the landed interests who had tried to follow the example set to them by the manufacturers; they had endeavoured to gain the profit like the manufacturers by the 721 same system, but they entirely failed. Many of the effects produced by these restricting laws had been referred to. The noble Lord, the Member for Stroud, had stated one or two instances last night; and he would state another, which appeared to him to bear on this subject, with a view to showing, that the present system was injurious to the landed interest. It was a paragraph in the writings of the gentleman whom he had already quoted, and which was well worthy of the attention of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, as showing that it was impossible to increase the prosperity of the landed interest by maintaining restrictions on other classes. It appeared, that the proprietors of vineyards in France, procured an Order in Council in 1731, to prevent the planting of new vineyards, under pretence of its occasioning a scarcity of corn. On this Adam Smith said;—Nowhere in France is corn more carefully cultivated than in the wine provinces. The numerous hands employed in the one species of cultivation necessarily encourage the other, by affording a ready market for its produce. To diminish the number of those capable of paying for it is surely a most unpromising expedient for encouraging the cultivation of corn. It is like the policy which would promote agriculture by discouraging manufactures.And Adam Smith added;—It is not more than fifty years ago, that some of the counties in the neighbourhood of London had petitioned Parliament against the extension of turnpike roads into the remoter counties. Those remoter counties, they pretended, from the cheapness of labour, would be able to sell their grass and corn cheaper in the London market than themselves, and would thereby ruin their cultivation. Their rents, however, have risen, and their cultivation has been improved since that time.This was in illustration of the mistakes which people of narrow views, often fall into, even as to their own interests. The result showed, that all classes profit by the liberal system, which promotes the general prosperity. He held, that the Corn-laws lessened the general prosperity, and that they fettered the industry of the country. Every page of our history showed, that by these laws the general prosperity of the country was injured, that labour, and capital, and industry, could no longer obtain fair returns, and that we were now in a situation less able to encounter the difficulties which weighed on the country than if this law had not been passed. The House, however, had a right to know who were now 722 the applicants to them for this change. He had been sorry to hear the epithets applied to the different parties engaged in this controversy. The manufacturers were not actuated by any more selfish views than the community at large, but, seeing the injury which this system inflicted on the country, while they felt it fall with great weight on themselves, they were anxious to procure redress, they did press for changes, and they came before the House with perfectly clean hands, for, at a meeting of the Corn-law delegates from the different parts of England, on the 5th of February last, they came to the following resolution unanimously:—That this meeting, whilst it demands of the Legislature as an act of justice, the total and immediate repeal of all laws imposing duties upon, or restricting the importation of corn, and other articles of subsistence, is prepared to resign all claim to protection on home manufactures, and to carry out, in their fullest extent, both as affects agriculture and manufactures, the true and peaceful principles of free trade, by removing all existing obstacles to the unrestricted interchange of industry and capital between all nations.He (Mr. Hume) was against restrictions upon any article, and, more especially, upon an article of such vast importance as corn. He thought, that from the passing of the law in 1815 they might date the misery and wretchedness of the hand-loom weavers, for the industry of that class had been so undersold in other places that it was impossible for them to meet the competition of other countries. On this subject he was supported by the authority of an author of great merit, who had explained many of the difficulties which existed in the case. Mr. Senior said:—The principal means by which the fund for the maintenance of labourers can be increased, is by increasing the productiveness of labour. And this may be done, first, by allowing every man to exert himself in the way, which, from experience, he finds most beneficial, by freeing industry from the mass of restrictions, prohibitions, and protecting duties, with which the Legislature, sometimes in well-meaning ignorance, sometimes in pity, and sometimes in national jealousy, has laboured to crush or misdirect her efforts.He repeated, that he had always opposed the prohibitory duties; and he held in his hand a list of the prohibitions on different manufactures, of many of which he had advised the Government to clear the statute book. Many of them were merely nominal but, at the same time, many of the duties 723 extended to an amount varying from 5 to 30 per cent. From the time of the passing of the present Corn-law, in 1815, misery and wretchedness had been produced to those who were dependent upon manual labour for their support, and it would eventually become impossible for them to bear up under the competition and pressure. All attempts to relieve them and give them continued prosperity would be useless, unless the Legislature went to the root of the evil which now weighed them to the earth. England was blessed with abundance of capital, greater in amount, probably, than that of any other country, and yet, by the Corn-laws, that capital was prevented from being usefully applied, and poverty and misery were the consequences. Capital, it had been said, was fluctuating, and might pass away, and that very capital which would tend to make Ireland happy, and to employ the manufacturing population of England, was now passing away to foreign countries. There was one aspect under which this question had not been considered. Hon. Gentlemen had spoken again and again of the necessity of employing the agricultural labourer, but they had not taken into account the immense increase of the population of the country—an increase which had occurred almost entirely in the manufacturing districts, but during the progress of which no means had been adopted to supply the wants of those who had new claims upon the community, and they had, in consequence, been compelled to quit the country by emigration, while the greatest benefits might have been derived from the employment of their labour, which could have been effected by means of the capital which existed. He had taken a statement from the returns which had been made, and which would show the gradual increase which he had described. He would not go back to the year 1700, but he would date the inquiry from a later period. In 1790, there was a population of 8,540,000; in 1810, it was increased to 10,407,000; in 1830, the amount of the population was 13,840,000, and it was at the present time calculated to be about sixteen millions; but from the year 1790 to 1830, a period of forty years, there appeared to be an increased population equal to 5,300,000. He begged to ask hon. Gentlemen how they considered these 5,300,000 persons to have been employed? In agriculture? No; for the number so employed was not greater at the present day than it had been in 1790. He found, 724 by an official return, that in 1811, out of every 100 of the population of England there were 35 employed in agriculture; in 1821, there were 33; and in 1831, there were 28. So that the restriction laid on by the Corn-laws, instead of providing for the employment of the agricultural labourers, had actually lessened the number employed. In Scotland manual labour was as much as possible substituted by machinery. Where had the increased population of England been employed? In manufactures. So that, while stinting and limiting the power of employing manufacturers, the advocates of the Corn-laws were limiting and stinting the supply of food. He recommended, that the doors to industry should be opened—that food should be rendered cheap—and thus the people would be happy, instead of starved, as they had hitherto been by these laws. For the present detestable monopoly gave to the few—to the rich—the power of starving millions. ["Oh, oh!"] That was strong language. But it was only giving things their right names. And it was surprising to him (Mr. Hume) that those religious Gentlemen, who were so acutely sensible on the subject of the factory children, were not equally so on the question of the Corn-laws. There could be no doubt of the increase in the population, for he had in his hand a paper showing a comparison of the years 1801, 1811, 1821, and 1831, in the manufacturing and agricultural districts, and it appeared from that, that the increase of the population had, in the former districts, been very great, while, in the latter, it had been very small. To take the case of Manchester and Salford (for he would not refer to the metropolis); in that large manufacturing district, he found that the population in 1801 was 90,399; while, in 1822, it was 110,244, an increase of 22 per cent.; in 1827, it was 154,807, an increase of 40 per cent.; and, in 1831, it was 227,808, an increase of 47 per cent. In Glasgow, in 1801, it was 77,385; in 1811, it was 100,749; in 1821, it was 147,043; and, in 1831, it was 202,426. In Birmingham the numbers were respectively 73,670, 85,753, 106,721, and 142,206. In Leeds they were 53,162, 62,534, 83,796, and 123,393. In Nottingham they were 28,861, 34,253 40,415, and 50,680. In Liverpool the amount of the population rose from 79,722 to 189,242; in Bristol, from 63,645 to 103,886; in Newcastle, from 36,963 to 57,937; in 725 Dundee, from 26,084 to 45,355; and in Plymouth, from 43,194 to 75,534. In the counties the increase had been equally great. The population of Chester had risen from 191,751 to 334,391; that of Durham, from 160,361 to 253,910; that of Lancaster from 672,731 to 1,336,854; of Monmouth, from 45,582 to 98,130; of Surrey, from 269,043 to 486,334; of Warwick from 208,190 to 336,610; and of York, from 565,282 to 976,350; while the population of Flint, in Wales, had also risen from 39,622 to 60,012. But what was the increase in the agricultural districts? He would take the county of Buckingham. In Buckinghamshire the population had been 107,444 in the year 1801, and in 1811, it was 117,650, a rise to the extent of nine per cent. In Hereford the rise was five per cent., in Huntingdon four per cent., in Rutland none at all, in Salop sixteen, and in Wilts five. In 1831, the increase per cent. was in Bucks nine, in Hereford seven, in Huntingdon nine, in Rutland five, in Salop eight, and in Wilts eight. To return, then, to the manufacturing districts. The proportion per cent. of the increase had been—in Glasgow 114, in Liverpool 110, in Manchester 109, in Birmingham 73, in Leeds 99, in Paisley 68, in Aberdeen 85, and in Dundee 64. When they saw, then, that the population actually employed in agriculture was less than it was thirty years ago, he begged to inquire where were the means to be found by which the surplus population was to be supported? During the whole of that time it had been maintained by manufactures, and it should, at least, be the business of the Government, and of that House, not to limit the means by which the mouths of the increasing population could be filled; on the contrary, the Legislature should provide for them by opening, by every means in its power, those channels by which they might receive supplies. Taking the whole of the labouring population of the country, he was prepared to express his belief, that not one-third of them were sufficiently fed. The amount of the produce of the land was limited, that of manufactures was unlimited, but if the means of living could be obtained, means of employment would also he given; and while fresh occupation was furnished to some, that which was already in existence would not be taken away from others. It was nothing but want of capital and of hands which could limit manufactures, both of which Eng- 726 land possessed, and if means of living were introduced, might he employed; fur he was prepared to say, that a bushel of corn could not be imported which would not be paid for by the labour of manufacturers put into operation by its consumption. The hon. Member for Yorkshire had stated, that this country was too highly taxed to enter into competition with foreign countries. But he would remind them, that if this country were surrounded by a wall of brass, we should still have the interest of the National Debt to pay out of our own means—that is, if we were honest enough—and, be must say, that it was only the landed interest he found who were inclined to meddle with the national faith entered into by the country with its creditors, always excepting the hon. Member for Birmingham. In 1836, the amount of exports was 77,932,676l., in 1837, it was 84,883,276l., and, in 1838, it was 62,317,207l.; and it was only by means of her trade and manufactures, that England could hold the high position which it maintained. Supposing, then, that forty-two millions were paid annually in wages, which he calculated to be the amount, every guinea of that sum brought to the revenue a return of from 5s. to 7s. as duty upon articles of consumption, such as tea, tobacco, spirits, beer, &c. By this means, and by the export of goods, the burden upon the people was made lighter: and if, by the introduction of foreign corn, the amount of employment were also increased, there would be an increase in the amount both of wages and profit; additional means of meeting the demands upon the Exchequer, in order to pay the debt, would, of course, be furnished. He, therefore, maintained, that by opening the ports of England, and creating a free trade in corn, as well as in every other article the trade in which was now impeded or prohibited, the produce of the taxes would be increased, and some of those which now bore so heavily upon the country might be repealed. The labouring population of England was, at present, more miserable and worse paid than that of any other country in Europe; and, since the measure of 1815 had acquired any influence, the wages of the English labourer had been decreasing, while that of his continental neighbour had been increasing. On referring to the important paper read last night by the hon. Member for Sheffield, he found, that the English labourer was worse off than those of any other country in Europe; in fact, 727 while the latter had had their wages advancing since 1815, the wages of the English labourer had been diminishing under the baneful influence of that period. He deeply regretted, that Ministers should make this a divided question. Her Majesty's Secretary at War, the Secretary for the Home Department, and the President of the Board of Trade, had stated, that this question was one of the utmost importance to the interests of this country, and yet when they were in the Cabinet they and their colleagues could not agree to it. Elsewhere a distinguished member of her Majesty's Government, who had a very great influence over the country, and who also had very great influence at Court—that distinguished personage had the night before said, as the reports in the morning papers showed,—"I declare, before God, that this is the wildest and the maddest scheme that ever the imagination of men conceived—that is, to leave the agricultural interest without protection." Now he had hitherto thought, that the wisest and most discreet men had been selected to carry, on the affairs of Government, but the conclusion, from what that high personage had said was, that his colleagues were absolutely worse than madmen. He could come to no other conclusion. He (Mr. Hume) regretted very much that he could not now produce the evidence that had been taken three years before by the Commissioners for inquiring into the state of the hand-loom weavers, as that evidence would have supported all his opinions; the returns of death would show, that while the Legislature had the power, it had not the will to relieve, and that thousands and tens of thousands had died of famine. The Corn-laws were killing the hand-loom weavers by inches; it could be proved, that when food was scarce and employment scanty, the deaths amongst the populations had been two to one compared to the deaths in times when food and employment abounded. It was very fine, indeed, to talk of our bold peasantry. Why where were they now? There was no agriculturist now better than a pauper. [Laughter.] Since hon. Gentlemen doubted, he would prove it. He was a member of the Committee up stairs last year. They first proceeded to inquire about Sussex. On the 19th of April, 1837, several labourers were examined before the Committee. They had all wives and numerous children, and stated, that their wages were, some of them 8s., some 728 of them 8s. 6d., some of them 7s., and one of them 11s. 6d. a week. They stated before the Committee bow they distributed this income, by which they supported themselves, and in all instances, the amount for bread was two-thirds of the whole income. Not believing it possible that people could remain under such a state of things, he himself visited Wiltshire and Devonshire very often after that, and found the average wages there to be 8s. a week. Some received 9s., others 7s., and the average was 8s. The corn was then at 56s. It had since been 70s. and 80s.; and he would ask, what increase of wages had there been to the labourer, to enable him to procure the same proportion of bread for his family that he had been able to procure when the corn was at 56s. It had, indeed, been said, that wages had been advanced 2s. 6d., but he could assure the House, that that was only in the Northern districts. And this was the state of the bold peasantry of England. It was an insult to talk of such a thing. There was no such thing in existence; and he hoped he should hear no more of our bold peasantry, because, if a peasantry, in the very next grade of that to actual starvation, was a bold peasantry, why then, and then only, was ours a bold peasantry. They were unable to procure the necessary comforts of life. They actually stated before the Committee, that they never tasted any animal food from January to December, and they were absolutely without the means of procuring necessary clothing. Surely the House, under such circumstances was called upon to consider why such a state of things existed. For his own part, he believed, it to be on account of the Corn-laws, and that, therefore, there ought to be a change in them. The manufacturers of this country asserted, that, by our restrictions, corn in every other part was kept fifty per cent. below the price at which it was in England, and that the consequence of that was, that the manufacturers could not produce articles which chiefly required manual labour, at a rate to enable them to compete with foreign markets. In reference to Ireland, was the peasantry there better off now than they were in 1815? Why, it was clear that the system had been a fleecing system ever since that period. There was no possible way of improving Ireland, but by taking money there, and encouraging manufacturing in that country with it; but so long as Ireland was merely enabled to produce the raw produce, so long 729 would it remain as the Poles were, in poverty and wretchedness. The remedy for their state was to give employment. What were they to do to give employment? Why, he would say, introduce manufactures into Ireland; and if it were asked where would they sell them, his answer was, that the wide world would be the market for them. If he wanted any further proof of the decay in the condition of the people generally, he found it in the fact, that there had been a decrease in the production of goods requiring manual labour, and an increase in those requiring machinery. Yet, with all these evils pressing upon them, the workmen were so blind to their own interests as to be at the present time engaged in agitation for the attainment of abstract rights—(rights from which he was not averse, and which he hoped they would, ultimately, succeed in attaining)—in stead of endeavouring to obtain a repeal of the Corn-laws, from which most of the practical evils under which they laboured arose. Fourteen or fifteen hours a day they were obliged to labour for the mere means of subsistence which would have been thought excessive, could the possibility of it have been contemplated at all, in former times. It was supposed, that the opening the ports to foreign corn would so seriously lower the price of corn as to injure the landlords. But one effect would be to raise the price of corn in other parts of the world so as to bring the prices as nearly as possible to a level—the expenses of conveyance of course excepted. Again, the supporters of the Corn-laws argued, that they were rendered necessary by the burdens on land in England. He was prepared to maintain, that England was the most lightly taxed of all the corn-growing countries of Europe. In France, M. Flumann, the Minister of Finance, stated, on the 29th of April, 1833, that the total revenue of France for that year was 1,000,244,000 francs, of which the agriculturist paid 400,000,000, or forty per cent. of the whole revenue; and, in answer to a complaint made in the Chamber of Deputies, that the agricultural interest was unduly favoured by the Corn-laws,He strongly combated the opinion of the landed interest being unduly protected, maintaining, that the direct taxes paid by the landed proprietors in France amounted to 400,000,000 francs, or one-fourth of their net income, independent of their proportion of indirect taxes. In Belgium, the direct taxes were, in the same year, 32,500,000 francs, of which 21,631,614 were taxes on land, amount- 730 ing to one-fourth of the whole public revenue of 83,000,000 francs.He, therefore, denied altogether that land was here so heavily taxed in proportion as land in other countries. On the contrary, every thing had been done that possibly could be done to relieve the agriculture of this country from taxation. The landed interest, in fact, had received the exclusive protection of the Legislature. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke, had designated the landed interest as all-powerful. If they were powerful, let them also be just. He confessed, however, he despaired of justice from them, more especially when he saw that in another place only 24 out of 224 were found to advocate a change in the Corn-laws, and that the majority refused even to go into committee on the question. Much was said about the employment of physical force, and of the evils which the State must suffer whenever the lawful authority of the Legislature was set at nought. But who were they who gave rise to such demonstrations of physical force, or occasion to use them? Those who committed the flagrant injustice on the people, refusing to repeal a law destructive to their happiness and welfare, and even refusing to inquire into its operation on the community. With all the evils produced by the Corn-laws—with the poverty, and starvation, and misery which our population suffered—he was justified in calling, on behalf of the community, for justice from the landlords. He contended, that wages would not be reduced by the repeal of the Corn-laws, and he begged to quote to the House on the point, a passage from a letter of Colonel Torrens to the Duke of Buckingham. The hon. Member read the following pas-sage:—What is the counteracting circumstance which takes from the operative classes of England the power of obtaining an increase of wages, within the limits of the great superiority in the efficacy of their labour, arising from the extraordinary advantages, natural and acquired, which they possess? This circumstance is the high price of food; and the cause of the high price of food is the existing Corn-laws. So long as the existing Corn-laws remain, so long will it be found impracticable either to diminish the hours of labour or to increase wages, and so long will every attempt to do either, inflict additional privation upon the working classes, by narrowing the foreign market and contracting trade. No measures for increasing the reward of labour can be successful until the Corn-laws have been first abolished. Were food as cheap in England 731 as it is in other manufacturing countries, it would be practicable to secure to the operative classes in England a higher rate of real wages within the limit of the superiority, which more efficacious labour, cheaper fuel and carriage, and better machinery, all contribute to confer upon England in producing goods for the foreign market. But while the value of food in England is artificially raised above its value in those other manufacturing countries which are our competitors in the foreign market, such an improvement in the rate of real wages is morally impossible. Until an alteration in the Corn-laws shall have secured us against foreign competition, all projects for raising wages will he found erroneous in principle, and ruinous in practice. No plan for improving the condition of the people can, by possibility, be effectual, unless it increases the quantity of work which can be executed in a day or year, or the comparative cheapness of machinery, fuel, and carriage, or diminishes the comparative dearness of food. All projects for increasing wages, or for diminishing the hours of labour, which do not contain efficient provisions for accomplishing one or more of those objects, are founded in ignorance and in delusion, and must terminate in disappointment and in aggravated distress. The first step towards improvement must be the abolition of the Corn-laws.Formerly, continued the hon. Member, he bad been the advocate of a fixed duty. He had since seen reason to alter his opinion, and was now for total repeal, not merely of the duties on foreign corn, but also on every other article of import. Let the operations of capital be free in all branches of commerce alike—let there be a free employment of capital in commerce and manufactures, upon an equal footing as regarded freedom from restriction, and he did not depair of yet seeing England rise superior to all her difficulties.
said, the debate had been protracted to such an extraordinary length, that he would not have ventured to obtrude himself on the notice of the House for the mere purpose of answering the observations of his hon. Friend, if he might be permitted so to call the hon. Member for Kilkenny; but the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, and the noble Lord, the Secretary at War, in his three hours' speech, had cast so many taunts upon the country Gentlemen on his side of the House, that he must request the indulgence of the House whilst he stated his reasons for thinking, not only that the present law was defensible, but also that it was the very best which could be possibly produced. They had 732 stated that the present law had failed, because it had not prevented great fluctuations in prices, and had read part of the speech delivered by Mr. Canning in 1827, to shew that when he framed it he had said that prices would range between 55s. and 65s. a-quarter. The right hon. President of the Board of Trade had read returns to show that since the passing of that law the prices had ranged in one week from 47s. to 77s. a-quarter. He could not believe that those returns were correct, and in a conversation which he had had with the right hon. Gentleman as they left the House, the right hon. Gentleman told him that the returns which he had quoted were the returns of the price of corn every week, and not the returns of the average price of six weeks, which, as everybody knew, regulated the duty. He must, however, remind the House that not even the six weeks' average price was taken as a datum in the calculations for arrangements between landlord and tenant. If the operation of the Act of 1828 were looked at, every gentleman connected with agriculture would perceive at once that since the period of its passing, prices had been more steady than they were ever known to be before. The average price of the last ten years was 56s., and that was of itself a proof that the Act of 1828 was a great improvement on the Act of 1815. The Act of 1815 he admitted had turned out a great failure, and had inflicted, as the hon. Member for Kilkenny had said, extreme misery and distress upon all classes of the community. The system established in 1815 had been altered in 1822, and again in 1827. Formerly no importation was allowed till the home price reached 80s. a-quarter, but now wheat might be imported when the price was 73s., on paying a duty of 1s. He contended that a graduated scale of duty was a very great improvement on every other system adopted for the last 200 years. It was of very great importance, not only to the agriculturists, but to the whole population, that the country should be able to produce a quantity of corn sufficient for the whole consumption of its inhabitants. It was fully proved by a calculation in Mr. Marshall's tables, that, taking the number of acres brought under cultivation annually in Great Britain by the four-course system of agriculture to be 5,000,000, and the produce of 733 each to be twenty-two bushels, the quantity of corn would be sufficient not only to supply the whole consumption, but leave a surplus of 3,000,775 quarters for next year's supply. The feelings of the agricultural population he knew were decidedly unfavourable to any alteration in the present Corn-laws. At a meeting of the county which he had the honour to represent, a series of resolutions were carried against any alteration, although amendments were moved proposing a fixed duty. A petition was in consequence prepared for presentation to that House, deprecating any change of the existing system, which was signed by the Lord-lieutenant, by gentlemen, farmers, yeomen, shopkeepers, and labourers. The agriculturists knew very well, that under the existing system they had been for some years gradually rising from a state of difficulty and distress to one of comparative case and comfort. It was an error to suppose that the working classes would have a greater plenty of food, if its price were reduced. Wages invariably followed the price of food, and cheap bread meant low wages. If the manufacturers of this country wished to compete those of the Continent, they must learn to live on the same food as those of the Continent. He hoped, however, that such a state of things would never have any existence in this country. He would read to the House Mr. Jacob's description of the manner in which the population of the continental states lived. He said, "From the time I left the Netherlands, through Prussia, Poland, Austria, Bavaria, and Wurtemberg, to the time I entered France, I never saw either in the baker's shop, hotels, or private houses, a loaf of wheaten bread. In large towns a small loaf of wheaten bread is to be obtained, but only at the tables where foreigners were seated. In the villages and small towns rye bread is gegenerally used. Travellers commonly carry with them, in their carriages, a sufficiency of bread to serve them from one large town to another." He (Colonel Wood) hoped that the people of this country would never be reduced to live on such diet; he trusted that at one o'clock every day the labourer would always have a loaf of bread and a slice of bacon to set before his family. [Mr. T. Attwood.—And a pot of beer.] He joined in the wish. He hoped also that the day would 734 soon come when the people of Ireland would exchange their potato diet for wholesome wheaten bread. A total repeal of importation duties was what he believed few would advocate, but many Gentlemen were in favour of a fixed duty. But could any man suppose that a fixed duty could have been collected during last September and November? Had there been a fixed duty then in existence, either Parliament must have met to repeal it, or Her Majesty's Ministers must have issued Orders in Council suspending the operation of the law. Now, he was strongly of opinion that the manufacturing interest would not like to see such a power vested in the hands of any Minister of the Crown. Mr. Jacob and Mr. Canning were both adverse to the plan of a fixed duty. Mr. Canning said no description of duty could give ample protection except one that yielded to the fluctuations of prices and supply. He thought, in spite of the agitation which the President of the Board of Trade had sanctioned, that a conflict between the classes on this subject would never arrive. God Almighty avert so great a calamity; but if ever the country were assailed from without, he was well assured that the landlords, farmers, yeomanry, and labourers, would unite in defence of the rights which they had so long enjoyed, with the purpose of transmitting them unimpaired to their posterity.
§ Mr. M. Philips
commenced by saying, that a noble Earl (the Earl of Darlington), who had addressed the House on Wednesday evening, had thrown out, as was reported, a most serious charge against a portion of his (Mr. M. Philips's) constituents, for he was reported to have said—"It appeared to him that the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester had resorted to most unjustifiable means for getting up an agitation on this question. They had endeavoured to foment discontent in every part of the country, and had almost gone to the extent of seeking to arouse the populace to arms." Now, on the part of the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester he must give the most unqualified denial to this statement; and he had no doubt that the noble Lord, whose absence he regretted, would be ready to retract or explain the words. He had no doubt of this, since nothing could be further from the fact than such an assertion. In adverting to the various arguments which 735 had been brought forward on this subject, it appeared to him that a great mistake was made by many Gentlemen who advocated the cause of the landlords, in inferring that the advocates of repeal were desirous of reducing the country to depend on foreign corn wholly and exclusively. No such thing was, in fact, intended by any one; the manufacturers were too much attached to the home trade to wish anything of the sort, and it would be very odd if they did not prefer the trade at their doors to that which was carried on with foreigners. The hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cayley) had said, that the agriculturists were always exceedingly loth to reduce wages; but it should be remembered that if the agriculturist did not choose to reduce wages, he had the option of doing something else; if he did not reduce wages, he might discharge his labourers, and send them on the parish. In manufactures, however, where the machinery was fixed, it was not possible to discharge the labourers without also stopping the machinery; and the hon. Member, in stating that the manufacturer felt no concern for his labourer, while the agriculturist did, was not borne out by the facts. Again, when the hon. Member argued that the laws ought not to be altered, in consideration of the amount of capital which had been invested in land under these laws, it ought to be remembered that the capital was invested with the full knowledge of the liability of these laws to alteration. The hon. Member might as well say, that the present population having grown up under the existing laws of every kind, we had no right to alter any of them, or that we had no right to abolish any of those old monopolies under which the country had so long groaned. The hon. Member had stated, that the average return of wheat, oats, barley, and rye, was four to one in Prussia, while in Britain the average was eight to one. Why thus, by the hon. Member's own showing, the English agriculturist had a protection to the amount of 100l. per cent, as compared to the Prussian. The hon. Member had argued, that the repeal would cause an increased demand for bullion for exportation. Now, he (Mr. Philips) had always imagined that it had been owing to the contracted nature of our dealings with foreigners, that the necessity had arisen of exporting bullion at a time when its presence here was 736 extremely desirable. The hon. Member's statement was, he believed, quite unsupported by facts. The hon. Member had said, that there were but 355,000 persons connected with trade in factories, that these were the loudest in crying out for repeal, and that it would be folly for the majority to give way to the demands of so small a minority. Now, he (Mr. M. Philips) said, that there were 2,386 mill-owners alone, and, not to particularize the various denominations of bleachers, sizers, calico printers, calico engravers, and others, whom indeed it would be impossible to enumerate, he said, that the number of those who were dependent on cotton, if taken at 1,500,000, would not be overstated. It was said, that the foreign potentates would take advantage of our wants when corn became scarce under the abolition in this country, and would impose duties upon the export of corn out of their dominions. Now, he should think, if foreign potentates chose to do what was evidently so impolitic, they undoubtedly might do so, for many of the foreign potentates were very despotic; but the way to prevent this would be very easy, and would consist merely in entering into sounder commercial relations with them. The argument, here, too, had been as if the manufacturing interest wanted to depend upon foreigners for the whole supply. That balance of the supply which they were now obliged occasionally to get from the foreigner, at a great disadvantage, was all they asked. But on this point he would refer to the very able pamphlet of Mr. Porter, of the Board of Trade, who showed that the lower classes were much more dependent upon America for cotton for clothing than they could ever be on foreign countries for bread. But the United States would never have the folly to put a stop to their trade in cotton with us. He believed that the exact state of our relations with the United states was this—that out of 1,000,000 bags of cotton which we imported annually, 800,000 were imported from different parts of the Union, and yet there never was any inconvenience felt from this; and he believed that the southern states would rather separate from the Union altogether than give up the English trade in cotton. In reverting to the speech of the Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire, the hon. Member had stated that the success of Switzerland as a manufacturing country had nothing 737 to do with the operation of those laws. Now, they who represented the manufacturing interest in that House entertained a diametrically opposite opinion. He had stated on a former occasion that Switzerland was a country which had no Corn-law, and it exported two-thirds of its manufactures, and successfully competed with the English manufactures in the market of the United States. That was ground which some few years ago was considered to be occupied by us alone, and now the Swiss were fast supplanting us. Then with respect to China, had we the exclusive supplying of the Chinese market with manufactured goods? No such thing. He had stated the other night, that in 1834, he knew it was a fact, that there had been 166,000 pieces of cotton goods imported into China, the produce of American looms, instead of being the produce of English looms. If that trade continued to grow as it had done heretofore, our trade with China would decline. An hon. Member had stated, that purchasers were returning to the English market for hosiery, because they found the hosiery of Nottingham of a better description than Saxon hosiery. That might be true, and, if it were so, he was glad to find, that the distressed labourers of Nottingham were about to find some relief. But that relief would not be of a permanent character, for the Saxon manufacturers could meet us in the foreign markets, and afford their goods at twenty-five per cent. less than we could, and therefore there was great room for their improvement, and the Saxon manufacturers would meet us again with an improved species of hosiery. The hon. Member for Lincolnshire had stated, that the manufacturers of this country were men of a sordid description, who cared little for the interests of those they employed. He thought that was a harsh statement for any hon. Member to make. There was another observation made by the hon. Member which he hoped the hon. Member would excuse him for adverting to. The hon. Member was addressing a number of the landed gentry of his own county, assembled at a public meeting, and he then had stated, that inasmuch as the manufactures of this country had flourished between the time of the passing of the Corn-law in 1815 and 1820, it must have been the result of the Corn-laws, that they did so flourish. He must say, that if the manufacturers of this coun- 738 try did flourish during that period, it was rather in spite of those laws than owing to them. There was no more connexion between the prosperity of the manufactures and the Corn-laws, than there was in the old and foolish saying, that Tenterden church steeple was the cause of the Goodwin sands. It had been stated, that none of the trades petitioned against the corn bill, but that the only petitions sent to that House against it originated with the manufacturers. He had had the honour of presenting petitions from every trade in the borough which he represented, respecting the operation of those laws, stating-, that they viewed them as affecting their interests, and they prayed for their repeal. It had been stated, that the operatives had not petitioned against the bill; he would ask if the operative portion of the country was the most likely to prepare for meeting the contingencies for which it was now necessary to provide, or whether the party who paid the operatives their wages was not more likely to do that. He should have been extremely surprised if the manufacturers of this country had not been the first to address that House, and make known their fears of the operation of these laws, if they were suffered to continue. Would the noble Lord who had stated this permit him to ask whether they had been used to see the petitions of the agricultural labourers the first to be sent in in agricultural distress—whether they had seen that even the farmers themselves were the first to petition, but whether on the contrary, the landowners themselves had not been the first? It appeared to him, therefore, that there was no argument in that statement of the noble Lord. He was perfectly prepared to assert, that there was a deep and intense feeling with respect to the operation of those laws. He had had statements made to him showing him the list of prices in the month of February last year, when Parliament met, and in the month of February during the present year, and he found, that there had been a most extraordinary rise, most detrimental to the unfortunate operatives. The price of food had been in many instances nearly doubled; for he found, that in the month of January, 1838, flour was selling at 1s. 8d., and in the same month in 1839, it was selling at 2s. and 2s. 9d. Potatoes had also risen in the same ratio. It did not lie in the power of the manufacturers to give an advance in their wages equi- 739 valent to this advance in the price of food. He confessed he was somewhat at a loss to discover what were the peculiar burdens of which the landed interest complained. He would ask this question—had they not the making of those laws? Did the manufacturers make them? Had they a voice in the making of those laws? He said most decidedly they had not. Neither Birmingham, nor Manchester, nor Sheffield, nor Leeds, had one word in the making of those laws; they were made exclusively by the representatives of the landed interest. If, therefore, they complained at this moment, and anticipated serious evils to arise from the imperfection of those laws, he confessed he could only regret, that their complaints were met by statements which were neither facts nor arguments. He regretted, that the House had decided not to receive evidence at its bar as to the working of those laws; and had chosen to pass its verdict on this subject, before it had examined any witnesses. He hoped he should never see the day when the landed interest would make common cause with the Chartists. He was an advocate for the total repeal of the Corn-laws, because he was convinced, that in a few years we must come to that, and we had better have it now. Changes of opinion had been adverted to: he begged to quote the opinions of an hon. Member of the other House of Parlirment, Lord Ashburton, before he had been raised to the peerage. He would quote from a debate on the Corn-laws which took place in 1828. The hon. Member said, speaking of the Dutch—They were still populous, and had once been extremely opulent and powerful as a manufacturing nation; nor let hon. Gentlemen ever forget that, from that opulence and power they had declined absolutely from levying enormous duties upon the corn consumed by their subjects. The same fate, resulting from the same cause, as irresistibly awaited this country, as one day succeeded another. As to the talk about high prices, the danger of our present system arose, not from positive, but from relative, prices. He owned he was amazed at the course which so many Gentlemen had pursued upon this question. How was it possible that any man, having the powers of reasoning or reflection, could come down to that House day after day and talk about protection to corn—protection to wool—protection to oak hark—the difference meanwhile in the price of bread between Great Britain and the natives of the continent being as the difference in favour of the latter 740 between 25s. and 64s.? How was it possible that they should expect we could go on exporting manufactures as we now did, to the amount of between 50,000,000l, and 60,000,000l. a-year, there being this frightful disproportion between the relative prices of corn among ourselves and our continental neighbours? Heartily did he wish that some man amongst them, with honesty in his heart, would come down and tell them plainly it was their duty to consider, not how they might get in their own proper rents for that particular year or so, but how the country was to subsist with its establishments for the next twenty or fifty years. But, on the contrary, he declared with pain, that whenever the corn question came on for discussion, it was argued by them on the most selfish and narrow-minded principles that any Legislature ever condescended to listen to."*It was impossible, in considering this subject, not to look at coming events—at those events to which manufacturers looked forward with apprehension—namely, the decrease in their exports. It was said, and much stress had been laid on the fact, that there had been an increase in the export of our manufactures to some foreign markets; but the still more important fact was overlooked, that we were almost wholly driven from some of our old and best markets, while those markets to which we were beginning to export were at a great distance, and we there had to stand a competition with the produce of other nations very much less burthened than we were. In conclusion, he would say, that if some alteration did not speedily take place in the present system of Corn-laws, the best interests of the country would be jeopardized, and the landed interest itself would receive a blow from which it would not soon recover.
§ Mr. Handley
repudiated on the part of those whom he represented, the charges that had been made against them, of ignorance anti self-interest, by those who, he did not see on what grounds, arrogated to themselves exclusive intelligence on this and other questions. The conduct of some of the manufacturers had been watched, and the miserable expedient of closing the mills and working at short hours was seen in its true light by the operatives, who now perceived that it was not their comfort or advantage which were aimed at, but the profits and interests of the manufacturers themselves, who would*Hansard (New Series) Vol. xix. p. 154.741 bring the operatives to the degraded condition of those of Prussia and Saxony. One of the great allegations on this subject by the advocates of a change in the present law was, that the proposed change would bring about cheap bread. How had this been made out? The average price of wheat under the present Corn-laws, had been 56s. the quarter, while in France, during the same period, it was 40s. Now, the difference would make a difference of only l½d. in the quartern loaf, and taking the number of persons in the family of an operative at six, which was rather above the general average, and saying that they consumed forty pounds of bread, or ten quarterns in the week, the difference in the prices he had stated would make only a difference of 15d. in the weekly expenditure of that family for bread; and, he would ask, would that be found to countervail the disadvantages which would arise in other respects from the change in the present law? He would also ask those who would take away all protection against foreign competition from the corn-growers of this country—he would ask those, were they prepared to give up the protection which the manufacturers now enjoyed against foreign competition? He would ask his right hon. Friends, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade, if they were ready to give up the taxes on foreign articles of consumption which competed with our own produce? He was sure that his right hon. Friends, if present, would answer in the negative. It was admitted, that there was a minimum in the price of manufactures below which the manufacturer could not sell with any chance of profit. The case was similar with respect to the price of agricultural produce, and why should not, be again asked, the agriculturist get an equal protection with the manufacturer of woollens or cottons? Would the woollen manufacturers of Yorkshire or Stroud be satisfied to be exposed to the full competition of the foreign manufacturer of those articles? Or would our West-India planters be satisfied with the cultivation of beetroot sugar here? He believed not. The whole of the land was mortgaged to the public creditor; but if they found nothing but naked and untitled fields, what would be the value to the public creditor of the collateral security of mills and machinery? Many hon. Members who had taken a 742 part in the debate, had advocated a change in the present system, without informing the House what the nature of the change should be. If the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, were now in his place, he would ask him, was it fair to talk of changes should be? But they were told that the change, whatever it was, would be beneficial to the agriculturists? Now, he must say, that he spoke the sentiments of 8,000 constituents, and he was sure that not one of them desired any such change; however, on their parts, he would say, that they, no doubt, felt grateful for this desire to benefit them in spite of themselves. Let him add, that our of 235 parishes in the district which he represented, little short of 200 had declared themselves against any change in the present system. Much stress had been laid on the fluctuations in the price of corn in the last year, but he would appeal to all who were acquainted with the subject, whether they remembered any such year since 1816, or before that, since 1801, or before that, since 1795? But corn was not the only article in which great fluctuation had taken place in the same time. Would the right hon. Gentlemen, the President of the Board of Trade, say that those fluctuations were attributable to the sliding scale of duties? Or would he, in adopting fixed duties, give also fixed seasons, and, rivaling the great Murphy, take the elements under his protection, and in a dry June indulge them with an occasional shower of rain? It was absurd to talk of fluctuations being exclusively confined to corn, or being the result of a scale of duties. This was shown by the fact, that two articles which were subject to fixed duties—he meant tallow and wool—had fluctuated as much in price as any articles mentioned in the Price Current. Tallow had fluctuated from 28s. to 51s. and wool from 2s. 7d. to 6d. in the pound. As to our being left dependent on any foreign nation for our supply of corn, he would say, that the day when that dependence should arrive would be an unfortunate one for this country. See what might have occurred to our army in the Peninsula when the supply from America had been cur off from us for a time. Why, had it not been for the characteristic foresight of Wellington in getting in six months' provisions for his army instead of three, the 743 embargo in America would have injured it to an extent which 100,000 foreign bayonets had been unable to effect. Under circumstances of scarcity, when we imported 12,000,000 quarters of foreign corn weighing about 2,400,000 tons, it would require 20,000 ships for the corn trade alone, and he apprehended that it would be difficult for all the navies in the world to furnish that number. He would merely call on those hon. Gentlemen who might be induced, by the specious political tactics of others to vote for going into Committee, to consider that if the Corn-laws were doomed to be repealed, whatever might be the substitute proposed, they were placed between the two fires of having either a fixed duty or no duty at all. As to himself, he was of that class who were opposed to the repeal; in short, he was a farmer.
felt himself bound to make a few observations on what he considered to be a most unjust attack of the hon. Member who had just spoken and of others upon those persons by whom he was supported; and if the hon. Member wished to be sure of the truth of what he now stated, he would refer him to the statement recently made by the noble Lord, the other Member for Lincolnshire, at a public meeting of that county. That noble Lord had stated, that this opposition to the Corn-laws was not got up by those who wished to benefit the working classes, but by mere popularity hunters. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheered that statement, and he supposed, therefore, that they identified themselves with it; but he would reply, that there was not a more high-minded or intellectual class of men than those who were engaged in the manufactures of the kingdom; and he would say, that the noble Lord was not warranted by facts in attributing to the opposers of the Corn-laws such disgraceful intentions. As to himself, he was not influenced by the pressure from without, and during the last session had voted for inquiry into this subject. He therefore trusted that neither he nor those who acted with him would be attacked with such invidious epithets as those which he had spoken of. The hon. Member for Lincolnshire had repeated the statement which had been frequently made in the course of this debate, as to the object of the motion being to lower the rate of wages. Now, he be- 744 lieved that all those who had inquired into this matter, and whose opinions were entitled to attention, and indeed all those who had written books upon the subject. ["Laughter."] Hon. Gentlemen seemed to look with great contempt on such authorities, but those authorities had said that the rate of wages must depend nearly on the supply and the demand. He would now undertake to refute the statements of the right hon. Baronet opposite, who had last night attacked the right hon. President of the Board of Trade and the noble Secretary for the Home Department, saying that they had treated labour as a commodity. He would assert that labour was a commodity, and, in support of that opinion, he would refer to an authority not much liked, perhaps, by hon. Gentlemen opposite, although he spoke of one who was a great political economist—he meant Mr. Burke. That gentleman, in his Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, which he published in 1795, had said—"The rate of wages in truth has no direct relation to the price; labour is a commodity like every other; and rises or falls according to the demand." And in the same tract Mr. Burke had also said:—"And, first, I premise that labour is, as I have already intimated, a commodity, and as such an article of trade. If I am right in this notion, then labour must be subject to all the laws and principles of trade, and to regulation foreign to them, and that may be totally inconsistent with those principles and those laws." Hon. Gentlemen might denounce or deride Mr. Burke as a mere political economist, but he was one whose authority was considered great on all political subjects. Burke made the very same statement to which the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke, had objected, and he left it to the House to decide which was the better authority of the two, the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke, or Edmund Burke. The hon. Member near him (Mr. Handley) had said that the rise and growth of manufactures on the continent was principally owing to the twenty-five years of peace. He admitted the statement, and thought that it would have been more fair, more practical, and more just, if the fact had been so stated at the beginning; but if peace were pouring its blessings upon foreign countries, if they were then feeling the benefit of it in greater prosperity, and in the superior advantages of trade, he 745 asked was it right, proper, or just, in them, or whether they behaved as became representatives of the English people, when they, by maintaining these odious restrictions upon corn, aided so far in developing the capital of other countries, and of aiding in the destruction of their own manufactures. He was not jealous of foreign manufactures, he did not grudge to see them carrying on the operations of all such trades as were suited to the soil, and the genius of the respective countries in which they were fitted to flourish. But at the same time he claimed for the manufacturers of England that no injustice should be done to them—he claimed this for the manufacturers which had enabled them to carry or. Successfully a war which had not been undertaken by them, but by the agriculturists. It was a war that in his opinion had been carried on upon most unjust principles. It was a war to sustain tyranny abroad, for the purpose of preventing reform at home. That odious and unjust war hon. Gentlemen opposite never could have carried on but for the manufacturers, and the consequent prosperity of the country. He hoped, therefore, that it would no longer be said, because the manufactures of the Continent had increased by the long duration of peace, that we were still to maintain this restriction upon corn. He would next proceed to another argument of the hon. Member near him, which had also been frequently referred to in this debate. The hon. Member had asked, what was to become of the rural population if the Corn-laws were repealed? He might reply that every one of the arguments used upon this point, went in support of views he himself entertained. If by the change a great many lands would be thrown out of cultivation, and a great many labourers thrown out of employment, what did it prove, but that they were growing corn upon these lands more expensively than it could be had from abroad, and they were allowing labourers to be employed to disadvantage? He fairly admitted that this was a principle that made against immediate abrogation, and the instantaneous adoption of a free trade; but it was also an argument in favour of the principle itself. He was anxious, in the next place, to make a few observations on the statement made by the hon. Member for the county of Brecknock as to the quantity of corn that had 746 been destroyed as unfit for use. He found on inquiry, that the quantity was not very great, and that it amounted only to 829 quarters, which was imported in 1831, and destroyed in 1837. For six years it had been lying in warehouses at an expense generally calculated at not less than 6s. per quarter, and the House must he aware that the merchants were men of too much sense to import much grain into the country at such an expense. The hon. Member near him, bad alluded to the fluctuation in the price of corn, and on this point he would refer him to an authority to which he appeared much attached—namely, the work of Mr. M'Culloch, in which it was said, that although in a particular country the variations in price might be very great, yet it was not very great generally on an average throughout the world, but at the same time there must be always some. But let the House consider the great difference between the highest and lowest price of corn in this country. Under the present system, the lowest price had been 39s. 4d., and the highest 64s. 7d.; and had not the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, and the right hon. President of the Board of Trade demonstrated that this must necessarily be the case with a fluctuating scale, because when the price of corn rose as it had done in the present year, more land was brought into cultivation, and the increased produce then caused a change in the price. He was, therefore, against this system, and in his opinion it was as injurious to the agriculturist as it was to the manufacturer. There was another point which had not yet been touched upon, and that was the principle of the present law. It had been said over and over again, and reiterated in that debate, that a real protecting duty was only an equivalent for additional and extra burdens which farmers had to bear. Now, he found by the present law, that when wheat was 60s. per quarter, the duty was 25s., and that with an increase of price that duty diminished, until at 73s. it became only ls.; and yet, whether wheat was 73s. or only 60s., the burdens of the agriculturist did not vary in proportion, but continued the same although perhaps for several years they had been gradually diminishing. It was contended that the real object of this law was to regulate and determine prices; but to him it appeared to be as odious and tyrannical an Act as 747 any set of men could ever institute. He really did not think the agriculturists would be losers to the extent that was supposed, and on this subject he had documents that he could read to the House, but would not detain them by doing so. By one of those documents, however, it appeared that Mr. Dawson had in 1814 stated to the Committee that there was a constant temptation amongst farmers to over crop the land, and that the direct operation of this law would be to encourage that system. He would also put this question on one other ground—he would compare this law with others. The House had passed a Factory Bill, and a Poor Law Bill, and he would say, that the principle of the present Corn-laws was directly against the principles of those measures. Was it not a mockery of a grievance, was it not unjust, to tell the manufacturers that they would not raise the rate of wages, and yet that the agriculturists of this country should be engaged in a deep conspiracy to raise the price of corn? He knew nothing to be compared with the Corn-laws, but the legislation of Jack Cade. It was undertaking to fix the price of goods. As to the appeal of the hon. Member for Lincolnshire to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his absence with respect to the revenue: the claims of the public creditor, it was said by him, could not be discharged if the protecting duty for corn was taken off. Upon this point he referred to the statement of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, and to the proof he had given that in the years in which corn was low in price, the revenue was high, and so, vice versa, when corn was high, the revenue was low. The fact was, that the repeal of the Corn-laws would not only raise the revenue, but diminish the public burdens, by reducing the expenditure upon the public establishments. They had heard the other night of the expenses of victualling the navy and army. These expenses were greatly increased by the fictitious price that was set on corn. He hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Would show the hon. Member for Lincolnshire, that a repeal of the Corn-laws would be expedient not only in reducing the expenditure, but also in increasing the revenue. This was a matter which could not be lightly treated, nor hastily disposed of, for if the motion before the House were rejected, hon. Members would 748 be obliged to hear it again and again. The subject ought to be brought forward in every way; and as the advocates for repeal could not be heard by their counsel at the Bar, he hoped that hon. Members would introduce it in every collateral manner that they possibly could. He knew that this language was not pleasing to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that the prospect it presented to them could not be at all agreeable to them. He was not quite sure that Government was anxious for this course of proceeding, as all that they must naturally be always desirous for was, to bring the public business of the Session to a close as speedily as possible. He said that this was the business the most important of all, and he did not know how they could be engaged more nobly than in redressing the grievances of the entire people. When the hon. Member for Lincolnshire spoke of the number of petitions upon this subject, he presumed that the hon. Member referred to Lincolnshire; but he only wondered, when the hon. Member addressed himself to that point, that his party had not suggested to him that be was touching upon dangerous ground. He had heard himself the number of petitioners on both sides. He supposed that the number of petitioners was, within a few months, not less than 418,000 for repeal, and the number of the other party did not, he believed, for he spoke from recollection, amount to one-third of that number. The advocates of repeal had the public—they had the people, determined and resolved upon demanding redress, even until they extorted it from reluctance. They would speak out in a voice not to be misunderstood, and if they could not obtain justice from that House, they would resort to all those unconstitutional methods which he, for one, should deplore. It rested with that House to prevent the people from having recourse to such means, by redressing those enormous grievances, which were a crime and a disgrace to the whole country. In the general statement made by the hon. Member for Kilkenny he agreed, and he certainly could have wished that the whole weight of the Government had been thrown into the scale in favour of the repeal of the Corn-laws. But he would tell the Gentlemen opposite, that he would rather have the Corn-laws made an open question in the 749 Cabinet than a close one on the other side of the House. The eyes of the country were anxiously looking to the votes to be recorded the night, and he hoped the people would not perceive, that whilst there was impartiality on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, whilst they saw the Gentlemen around him voting in reference to the present question in different ways, he trusted they would not perceive all the Gentlemen opposite leagued in close compact against any change of the present system of Corn-laws. If, on the contrary, they saw the other side of the House banded together to resist the motion, the people would say that it had not been considered dispassionately, and without reference to party feelings. If they saw the Members for opulent trading and manufacturing towns united in this question with the representatives of agricultural counties, they would know what sort of judgment to form of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, for they would see them unable to co-operate with the advocates of change, of which they approved, because they were entirely fettered by party trammels. He did hope and trust that this might not be the case; he hoped they would rise superior to party considerations; that they would discard those invidious and often unmeaning distinctions which prevented men acting for the benefit of their country. He hoped they would that night join with the supporters of the motion. But, whether they did or not, it was his firm opinion that they ought to do so. He, at all events, was resolved to have his conscience clear with his country; and, that he might not seem to participate in the unjust and odious protection to corn, he should give his vote in favour of the motion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton.
§ Sir R. Peel
Sir, as this is the fourth night of the debate upon the Corn-laws; and as I do not intend to avail myself of those daily discussions upon collateral topics, with which we have been threatened by the hon. Gentleman, (the menace of which is infinitely more formidable to me than that of the physical force to which he has alluded), I desire to take advantage of this opportunity to express my opinions upon this subject. The hon. Gentleman, in the conclusion of his observations, deprecated unanimity upon this side of the House. He exhorted us not to exhibit to an admiring country, so extraordinary a 750 contrast with his own side of the House, and especially with her Majesty's Government. Now if the hon. Gentleman had deprecated unanimity amongst the agricultural Members, for fear that it might be inferred, that they were influenced by motives of self-interest, I could understand his exhortation to disunion; but that which he fears and deprecates, is not the harmonious action of a single and exclusive class, swayed by the same fears and motives; he evidently anticipates from the progress of this discussion, and from the preponderance of the argument, that the Representatives of the agricultural, the commercial, and the manufacturing interests, out of deference to the opinions and feelings of their respective constituents, will unite in resistance to the repeal of the Corn-laws, not in order to protect the special interests of one class of the community, but the general interests of the whole. There are two modes of arguing a question of this kind. The first, and that which is infinitely the most convenient to the speaker, and the most palatable to a popular assembly, is to avoid any reference to dry details and close reasoning, to seize on some weak point in the speech of an incautious adversary, or to make an appeal on some party ground, to the excited feelings and passions of your audience. The other is calmly to review the arguments opposed to you which have been chiefly relied upon in debate, to assign to such as cannot be satisfactorily answered their proper weight, and to attempt to refute those which may admit of refutation. This latter is the course I mean to pursue, from deep conviction of the magnitude of the question and respect for the interests involved in it; but in order to pursue it satisfactorily, I must claim that patience and attention, which I incur the risk of forfeiting by preferring arguments and details, dull and uninteresting in themselves, to more popular and exciting appeals. I wish to review generally the reasons that have been alleged for a repeal or material alteration of the Corn-laws; not hose only that have been relied also which though apparently forgotten in this particular debate, were mainly insisted on at the commencement of Corn-law agitation. Before these debated began, and previously to the commencement of this Session, I inferred that the chief stress would be laid upon the 751 decaying state of commerce and manufactures. When I found that agitation was determined on, that the board of delegates had been constituted, that appeals were made to physical force, that the aristocracy and the landed proprietors of the country were denounced to public vengeance by those portions of the press which are generally the advocates of the existing Government. I thought that the depressed state of commerce and of manufactures, and the impoverished condition of the mechanic and artisan would be brought prominently forward. But what has become in this debate of the depressed state of manufactures? Why have the delegates been forgotten? When the Member for Kendal (Mr. G. W. Wood) stated on the first night of the Session, that manufactures were recovering from depression, and that the general commerce of the country was in a sound and satisfactory state, he provoked the utmost indignation by the manly candour of his avowals. Was he right or was he wrong in his statements? If he was right, why has he been punished for his honesty? If he was wrong, why have not you exposed his error? The fact is, you know that he was right, and that official documents, since published, have confirmed his statements. You know there could have been no permanent advantage in his concealment of facts, which if with held, those documents must shortly have exhibited. The displeasure which he has incurred, the punishment with which he has been visited, prove that he deprived the advocates for repeal of the argument on which they had mainly relied, when he publicly proclaimed with the authority belonging to his name and station, that manufactures were rapidly reviving, and that commerce was in a satisfactory condition. The Member for Kendal, holding the high office of President of the Chamber of Commerce for Manchester, disposed of the first allegation—namely, of present decay, and general distress—when he declared it to be his opinion that the commerce of England is at the present moment in a most satisfactory condition—that he never recollected a period when the return to a state of healthy commerce and of comparative prosperity followed so rapidly a season of preceding depression; when he showed that the shipping interest of the country is now in a vigorous condition, and is rapidly extending; and 752 that, comparing the exports of the principal objects of British manufacture in the year 1838, with the average of the four preceding years, there is an excess in favour of the former of 3,112,000l. of declared value, being an increase of 7½ per cent. When it became necessary to abandon the first position, another was assumed. It was said—True, the general amount of exports has increased, but the increase has taken place in respect to those articles which most nearly approach the raw material itself, for the production of which the least degree of manual skill and labour is required, and which constitute the elements of foreign manufactures, competing with, and injuring our own. The very increase, therefore, so far from being an indication of prosperity, is a sign of decay.The Member for Manchester (Mr. Phillips), takes this view of the question, and assures us that there is ground for serious apprehension, with respect to the future stability of our manufacturing and commercial superiority. I should attach the utmost importance to these apprehensions, if they were shewn to be well-founded. So intimate is the sympathy between the condition of agriculture and trade, so powerful and immediate is the force of their reciprocal action upon each other, that if the prosperity of trade be endangered, the narrowest and most exclusive advocate of the interests of agriculture cannot be blind to the consequence. But the Member for Manchester should not demand from us implicit faith in mere predictions. He should explain the ground on which his apprehensions are founded. If they are fortified by argument, or official documents, they are entitled to the utmost respect; but prediction without argument, and apprehensions not sustained by official returns, cannot be considered conclusive. I place against the authority of the Member for Manchester, high as it unquestionably is, this paper, entitled "Trade and Navigation," delivered within the last week, not called for by an advocate of the Corn-laws, but presented by her Majesty's command. This paper, the most recent and most authentic document we have, does not corroborate the statement that our exports of those branches of manufacture into which skill and manual labour enter, are upon the decline. On the contrary, this paper exhibits a very rapid recovery from depression. It contains a comparative view of the exports of British pro- 753 duce and manufactures, and an account of the shipping employed in the foreign and coasting trade for the years 1837 and 1838. Now, in the year ending the 30th September, 1837, the average price of corn was 56s. 5d. In the latter year ending on the same day, it was 59s. 10d. We have, therefore, an advance in the price of subsistence, and whatever may be the tendency of such an advance, the immediate effect of it has not been to repress the elastic energy and buoyancy of manufacturing industry, so far as we can form a judgment from this return. The total declared value of exports in the two years respectively is as follows:—
Let us now refer to the items of which this general aggregate is formed for the purpose of inquiring how far the allegation is correct, that although the general result may appear to be favourable, it is in fact otherwise, on account of the relative increase of the export of those articles, which are rather the foundations for foreign manufactures, than the elaborate produce of our own.
1837. 1838. £36,228,468. £43,338,839
exhibiting an increase no doubt in the export of articles into which labour and skill enter only in a slight degree.
Year. Declared value £. In Woollen-yarn the export in 1837 was 333,098 In Woollen-yarn the export in 1838 365,657 In Cotton-yarn in 1837 6,965,942 In Cotton-yarn in 1838 7,430,582 In Linen-yarn in 1837 479,000 in Linen-yarn in 1838 655,000
754 Now, looking either at the general result, of an increase in our total exports, from 36,228,000l. in 1837, to 43,338,000l. in 1838, or at the increase in specific articles of export, can it be denied that such an instance of recovery from depression, coincident with an increase in the price of food, is a satisfactory indication that the foundations of our manufacturing superiority are not undermined by the rivalry of foreign powers, and at any rate, not undermined through the operation of the Corn-laws? It was said, on a former occasion, that a mere increase in the quantity of exported articles is no test of manufacturing prosperity; that the money value may have declined while the quantity has increased. Be it so;—but the calculations to which I have been referring, are calculations not of quantity but of money value. The same official paper contains an account of the shipping employed in the foreign and coasting trade in 1837, and 1838:—
But then the increase in Woollen manufactures, other than Yarn was from 4,660,000l. in 1837, to 5,792,000l. in 1838. In cotton manufactures from 13,640,000l. in 1837, to 16,700,000l. in 1838. In Linen manufactures from 2,133,000l. in 1837, to 2,919,000l. in 1838. In Glass there was a decline from 477,000l. in 1837, to 376,000l. in 1838. But in Silk manufactures there was an increase, from 503,000l. in 1837, to 778,000l. in 1838. In Hardware and Cutlery, from 1,460,800l. in 1837, to 1,507,000l. in 1838. In Earthenware, from 563,000l. in 1837, to 670,000l. in 1838.In the first year there were 18,113 vessels employed in the Foreign trade, of which, 12,252 were British vessels.In the last year, 19,639, of which 12,890 were British.Now for the next allegation. It was to this effect:—All this may be true, but it has become necessary in order to maintain the contest for manufacturing superiority with other nations, to make so large a reduction in the price of the exported article, that the home manufacture is carried on with scarcely any profitable return to those engaged in it. Compare the proportion which the declared value of our exports in late years has borne to the quantity, with the proportion which it bore in former years, and you will find that the value is almost stationary, or, perhaps, declining, while the quantity rapidly increased.This was the position of Alderman Waithman, which he manfully maintained for several successive years, notwithstanding he could procure no support for it. We admit the fact, that the price of the exported article, in many branches of manufacture, has declined, but we deny, that it follows as a just inference from that fact, that profits have been proportionally affected. It is impossible to make this point more clear, or to quote higher authority upon it, than by referring to state wilts made, and evidence given by manufacturers of Manchester of the highest character. In the year 1830, a committee inquired into the state of the East India 755 Trade, and the policy of opening it to British enterprise. Mr. Birley, a former President of the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester, and Mr. Kennedy, were examined before that committee. Their object was to show the probability that there would be a great export of cotton twist to India, if the trade were opened; and a paper prepared by Mr. Lee, of Manchester, from which the following is an extract, was produced for that purpose.In the year 1782, cotton twist, by Sir Arkwright's invention, exceeded the cost of the raw material 20s. in the pound for what is called in the trade No. 60. It now exceeds it by the mule only 1s. 6d. per lb., and taking into account the depreciation in the value of money, it cannot be estimated at less than a reduction of from 20s. to 9d. per pound—an astonishing instance of skill and economy superadded to the great advancement in both, previously made by Sir R. Arkwright.Q. "Can you furnish the Committee with a comparison of the cost of labour in producing yarns in England in 1812 and 1830?A. "I can. I have a statement showing it by the pound; and also the price of a continuous thread a mile long, in 1812 and 1830:
Cost of manufactured article per lb.
Price of cotton Price of labour. 1812 1830 1812 1830 2s. 10d. 1s. 6d. 1s. 0½d.
In 1812 3s. 6d. In 1830 1s. 10½d.Is it then a matter of surprise that the selling price of a manufactured article should be reduced, when there is a reduction of one hundred per cent. in the price of the raw material, and when by the wonderful contrivances of mechanical ingenuity, the same manufactured article which in 1782 cost in labour twenty shillings the pound, in 1812 cost eighteen pence?It may be said, that there was a difference in the price of labour between 1812 and 1830?—There was not—the price of labour in Mr. Kennedy's calculations, for the two periods, is the same.He says,—In 1812 and 1830 the wages of labour are estimated at twenty pence per diem for every person employed, including men, women and children. The reduction, therefore, in the cost of labour was not a reduction of wages.It has been observed in this debate, that British manufactured articles are selling in foreign markets for less than prime cost, and that foreign markets are overstocked. Hear Mr. Kennedy also on this point. He was asked— 756Do not you know that English manufactures at the present instant in India are now selling below the prime cost?He replied—There is not a market in the world which we do not sometimes overstock, but I always expect good to result from that.At the same time I do not deny that considering the extent of competition, there may be a material reduction of the profits of manufacturers, and that the pressure of such reduction is severely felt by many of them who have small establishments and a limited command of capital. They contend to a disadvantage with those who can undersell them in consequence of the employment of large numbers of operatives in new manufactories built on the most improved principles, and filled with the best machinery. The position of the small capitalist does not materially differ in principle, (I trust it does in degree), from that of the hand-loom weavers, after the invention of the power-loom. But this disadvantage to the small manufacturer is not traceable to the Corn-laws. It is not caused by the reduction of profits. If the large capitalist could realise a profit of twenty per cent. instead of the present amount of his profits, (small as it may be) he would equally avail himself of the advantage to which his capital and consequent command over both labour and machinery entitle him. But if profits are so unreasonably low, how does it happen that the number of new factories has greatly increased within the last few years, that the factory destroyed by accident is instantly replaced, and that new factories are constantly erected? The reason sometimes given, namely, that those who are already embarked in manufacturing speculations, find it necessary to extend their establishments for the purpose of increasing the scanty amount of profit, is not very satisfactory. It does not at any rate account for the building of new factories by new speculators. It is said indeed, that although new factories have been built, and old ones enlarged, this has not taken place very recently; nay, more, that many of the factories so built, are at present either totally or partially closed. This was said especially in the case of Preston, I believe. Now I hold in my hand a letter from Preston, calculated to mitigate the apprehensions on this head, which former statements may have caused. 757 This letter positively declares that only two mills, and those very small ones, have reduced the time of working; that the owner of one of these mills is a Corn-law delegate; and that the owners of both of them, finding no other persons prepared to follow their example, have wisely resolved to sail with the stream, and resume their accustomed labours. The last and the most important statement of the manufacturers, was to this effect: "All this may be very true; the declared value of exports may have increased, more mills may have been built, yet the increased quantity of manufactured goods is produced in consequence of the reduction of the wages of the labourer, and of exacting from him a degree of labour which he is unable to bear." Now, I consider this statement, that the condition of the labourer has been rendered worse by the operation of the Corn-law, a most important one, and I have no hesitation in saying, that unless the existence of the Corn-law can be shewn to be consistent, not only with the prosperity of agriculture and the maintenance of the landlord's interest, but also with the protection, and the maintenance of the general interests of the country, and especially with the improvement of the condition of the labouring class, the Corn-law is practically at an end. But let us look to those documents which contain evidence as to the general condition of the working classes, and do they, I ask, skew that the condition of the poor in those towns where manufactures are chiefly carried on has been rendered worse or their comforts curtailed? I do not allude to those peculiar cases of individual suffering which will always be found where there are such complicated relations of society as exist in England. It will ever be the case that there will be particular cases of distress and suffering calculated to awaken our deepest sympathy; but the argument from individual cases of privation is not conclusive. It admits, too, of easy application to agricultural distress in case the Corn-laws were repealed, and the poor soils thrown out of cultivation. We might adduce the case of the peasant advanced in life, attached to the spot of his birth, able and willing to labour, unfit for any other than rural occupations, banished from home, and forced to seek a scanty subsistence in a manufacturing town. We should look at general results, and though not altogether 758 satisfactory, yet perhaps no better evidence as to general results can be had than the Reports of the Savings' Banks. You say that your object is, that the manufacturing class should not merely be enabled to provide themselves with the means of daily subsistence, but to lay by something for the future comfort of themselves and their families. A wise and benevolent object! Let us see whether it is altogether frustrated. First, take the case of Liverpool. I direct attention to Liverpool because it is the port most extensively engaged in the export of manufactured goods, and would consequently immediately feel the effects of any decrease in manufacturing prosperity. I am fortunately enabled to institute a comparison between the first period of the operation of the Corn-laws and the latter period, and thus to ascertain if any injurious effects have been produced upon the population of that important town by those laws. I shall refer to the first four years which elapsed after the commencement of the present Corn-laws, and the four years last past.
Now, does this, I ask, indicate any decline in the condition of the population of Liverpool under the operation of this Corn-law? But I have not confined my inquiries to Liverpool. I am also enabled to produce to the House a comparison of 759 the amount of deposits and the number of accounts in the town of Nottingham.
During the first four years, namely, the years 1829, 1830, 1831, and 1832, commencing the 20th of November, 1828, and ending the 20th of November, 1832, the number of new accounts opened in the Liverpool Savings' Bank was, according to this statement. 1,300 The average number of deposits £55,000 0 0 During the last four years, namely, 1835, 1836, 1837, 1838—commencing the 20th of November, 1834, and ending the 20th of November, 1838, the average number of new accounts opened was 2,040 The average amount of deposits 80,000 0 0
Thus showing that in the three months which I have quoted of the last year there was an increase of 940l., in the amount of the money paid into the savings' bank, and a decrease of 700l., in the money which had been drawn out. I have a return from Leicester, another town extensively engaged in manufactures.
£ s. d. In the three months of November, December, and January, 1837–8, the amount of deposits in the savings' bank was 12,270 4 6 And in the three months of November, December, and January,1838–9, the amount of deposits was 13,211 0 0 In the first-named period the amount paid out of the bank was 10,096 0 0 And in the latter period the amount of deposits paid out of the bank was 9,392 0 0
I have also made inquiries of a similar character with respect to Birmingham.
In the year ending November 20, 1837, the number of depositors in the Leicester Savings' Bank, whose balances were below 20l., was 794 And in the year ending the 20th of November, 1838, the number of depositors under 20l. was 916 £. s. d. The amount of the sums deposited in 1837 was 9,843 0 0 And in 1838 10,742 0 0 The total number of depositors in the first year was 1,682 And the number in the last year 1,876
Showing an increase of the deposits 760 and a decrease of the money paid out by the bank. Of course I have not omitted from my inquiry, the chief seats of the cotton manufacture—Glasgow and Manchester. Before I refer to the report of the Savings' Bank at Glasgow, let me pause a moment, to contemplate the wonderful increase in the population and wealth of that great city—an increase, coincident with the operation of those laws which have given protection to domestic agriculture. In 1812 the population of Glasgow amounted to 103,743. The harbour dues received were 4,800l.2 In 1838 the population amounted to 262,000. The harbour dues to 40,260l. The increase in the consumption of coal is a still more striking indication of increasing industry, and productive power. In 1831, that is, shortly after the present Corn-laws came into operation, the consumption of coal in Glasgow, was calculated at 561,000 tons. In 1838, the Corn-laws having been in force during the whole interval, having exercised whatever of prejudicial influence they can exercise upon the enterprise and industry of Glasgow, the consumption of coal in the short space of seven years, was more than doubled, amounting to no less than 1,200,000 tons. But to return to the Savings' Banks; the report from which I quote is the third report of the National Savings' Bank of Glasgow, made on the 22nd of February, 1839. It contains a comparative account of the state of the Savings' Bank in the two years ending 20th November, 1837 and 1838 respectively.
£. s. d. In Birmingham, during the three months of November, December, and January, 1837–8, the amount received at the Savings' Bank was 12,297 15 4 And the amount paid out to depositors by the bank was 9,907 13 2 In the three months—November, December, and January, 1838–9, the amount of deposits was 14,870 6 10 And the amount paid by the bank to the depositors 8,554 5 4
In the first year the number of depositors from the class of mechanics and artificers, was 1,905. In the second, from the same class 3,119. In the first year, from the class of factory operatives, there were 3,824 depositors. In the second 6,342. In the first year the average of the balances of individual depositors below 20l., was 5l. 15s. 5d. The average of the second year 5l.. 17s. 11d. the increase being only 2s. 6d. But how is this small increase in the average accounted for? "The great number of new entrants," says the report, "upon 761 very small weekly deposits, is the true and gratifying reason of the apparently slow advancement in the money average of that welcome and deserving class 'not exceeding 20l.,' for whose benefit—from steady perseverance and provident habits—the Savings' Bank was especially intended." The last report of Savings' Banks to which I shall refer, is that of Manchester and Salford. The report was made on the 4th of January, 1839. Among the Vice-presidents and Trustees of the institution for the present year are—
In the first year the number of new entrants was 3,711 In the second year 4,694 In the first year the amount of deposits was £48,193 In the second £75,798Right Hon. C. P. Thomson, M. P.Mark Phillips, Esq., M. P.Geo. Wm. Wood, Esq., M. P.Jos. Brotherton, Esq., M. P.The report observes:—In submitting to the public their twenty-first annual report, the committee feel great pleasure in drawing attention to the gratifying result of their transactions with depositors during the past year. Since their last report, 3,346 new accounts have been opened, 20,453 deposits made, and 109,123l., 13s. 34½d. deposited; she wing an increase in the business unprecedented in the experience of the institution, the repayments to depositors being proportionally decreased. The difference this year, as compared with the last, is 42,697l. 16s. 11½d. in favour of depositors, and the number of open accounts being now 11,862, shews an increase in them of 1,617.The prospects of the future are still brighter. The report continues:—Notwithstanding this so far most satisfactory progress, the population of Manchester and its neighbourhood affords scope for a much greater extension.It must have been about the time that this report was in preparation, while the manager and officers of the institution were congratulating themselves on the present success of the Savings' Bank, and on the hope of its rapid extension, and were thus bearing public testimony to the improved condition of the manufacturing classes in Manchester and Salford; that in those very towns commenced the system of agitation, which has received the sanction of the President of the Board of Trade. Then it was, that the delegates were appointed, and meetings organized, and lectures to the labouring classes prepared, for the purpose of stirring up impatience and indignation with the Corn-laws, as the main causes of whatever evils they were exposed to. 762 Then it was that those organs of public intelligence which most strenuously support her Majesty's Government, were denouncing the aristocracy and the landed proprietors as selfish tyrants, fattening on the labour and sufferings of the exhausted poor, and provoking (if other means should fail) the resort to physical force. True it is, the attempt at agitation has failed, not from the returning moderation and good sense of its authors, but because their allegations of manufacturing distress and decaying commerce were contradicted by the Member for Kendal, and by the official returns; and, above all, because they found themselves utterly powerless to guide the tempest which they were able to raise. They soon discovered that agitation could not be restricted within the limits they would assign to it—that it could not be directed exclusively against the proprietors of land—that the confederates, on whom they relied, would turn upon their Leaders and tell them, whether truly or not I will not pretend to determine), "You who profess hostility to the landlords and aristocracy of the country—who impute to those classes of the community selfish motives—who attribute to them the desire to secure their own profits and to grind the poor—we will be no parties to your agitation—we will not lend ourselves to your schemes—we know that your only object is to increase the profits of the cotton-spinner, and by lowering the price of corn, to lower at the same time the rate of wages." I abominate as much as any man the doctrines mixed up with opposition to the Delegates and their projects; but, at the same time, it may be a salutary lesson to those who commence agitation, to find that the first to suffer by the lessons they have taught, are the agitators themselves. I here close the remarks I have to make with regard to the allegations of manufacturing distress, and shall proceed to review the main arguments relied on in the course of the present debate in favour of repeal or alteration of the Corn-laws. First, let us consider what it is that these condemned Corn-laws have actually done. In the nine years intervening between the 30th September 1830, and the 30th September 1838, the average price of wheat has been fifty-four shillings per quarter. Is this an unreasonably high price, compared with former periods, periods, not of war, when the price of corn 763 may have been raised by causes connected with war, but periods of peace?
The average price of the nine years preceding the war of 1793, was fifty-one shillings. The mere price of corn either in the same country at different periods, or in different countries at the same period, is no satisfactory test either of comparative prosperity, or of the condition of the labouring classes. There might be much greater general prosperity, and much greater individual comfort under high nominal prices than under low. The year 1763, for instance, when the peace of Paris was concluded, is mentioned by writers upon the commerce and manufactures of this country, as the period at which its productive industry started into new life and energy, and began the glorious career which it was destined to run. Now let us compare the decennial prices of corn previously to 1763, with the decennial prices afterwards, and it will be seen that it is possible that manufacturers may flourish, and the condition of the labouring classes may improve, and yet the price Of corn be on the increase at home, and also be higher in this country than in other countries. The inference is only good for this, to disprove the assertion, that cheap bread will necessarily benefit the working classes, and necessarily improve trade.
s. d. In 1793 wheat was 55 8 per quarter 1792 53 0 per quarter 1790 56 0 per quarter 1789 56 0 per quarter
The year 1765 was the commencement of new life and energy to productive industry, and what was the decennial average of the price of wheat subsequently?
s. d. From 1735 to 1745 the average price of wheat according to the Windsor tables was 32 1 From 1745 to 1755 31 3 From 1755 to 1765 39 4
She wing a very considerable advance in the price of wheat in the periods of general ease and prosperity. I have remarked that the average price of corn for nine years, ending September 1838, during the prevalence of ordinary seasons, was not more than fifty-four shillings per quarter. It is 764 said, however, that there was during that period great fluctuation in the price, that wheat was seventy-six shillings a quarter at one time, and thirty-six shillings at another, and again, seventy-five shillings and sixpence at a third. This is true; but such variations are, and will continue to be, the inevitable concomitants of variations in the supply, dependent mainly upon the influence of seasons; and it ought not to be forgotten that the weekly averages show that the fall from the highest point to the lowest, and the ascent again from the lowest, was as gradual as it was possible to be under any system of Corn-laws. So much for ordinary seasons. After the autumn of 1838 the Corn-law is submitted to a new trial—the harvest having been a failing one, and there being a necessity for a large import of foreign corn. The imports of the years immediately preceding had been very limited. Our wants having been almost entirely supplied from our own produce, we had not encouraged the cultivation of foreign corn by regular periodical demands. But when the time of pressure arrived, was there any serious difficulty in procuring the requisite supply? Is it not the fact, that, without any interference on the part of the Legislature or the Government, by the silent unaided operation of the existing Corn-laws, the ports were opened to foreign grain, free of duty, and that two millions of quarters of foreign wheat have been available for our consumption? What has been the effect of restrictions on the import of foreign corn upon the agriculture of Ireland? 1807, the number of quarters imported into this country from Ireland was 463,000. In that year, the markets of this country were opened, without restriction, to Irish corn. In 1830, the quantity of corn imported from Ireland was 2,215,000 quarters. In 1838, 3,474,000. With such facts before us, how the import of foreign corn is to be beneficial to Ireland, or to facilitate the establishment of manufactures in that country, I cannot comprehend. I shall now proceed to state—I hope fairly to state, the general outline and substance of the arguments mainly relied on by the speakers in favour of a change in the present law, who have preceded me. If I omit any important argument, the omission is not intentional. The following appears to me a fair summary of those arguments, that the corn-laws have 765 a tendency, by raising the price of corn at home, to encourage the manufacturing industry of rival nations, and to deteriorate the condition of the working classes at home; that by preventing a regular and certain demand for foreign corn, they derange commercial dealings and diminish the chance of adequate foreign supply at the period of its greatest necessity, caused by the failure of our own produce; that by the suddenness of the demand for foreign corn when the pressure does arise, it becomes necessary to send bullion in exchange for corn instead of manufactures, and thus to incur the risk of derangement of the currency, if not of a stoppage of payments by the bank; that the present Corn-laws tend to aggravate the opposite evils of a too abundant and of a deficient domestic supply, and that they have totally failed to realize the object for which, according to Mr. Canning, they were specially intended, and which he predicted they would fulfil, namely, to insure moderation and steadiness of prices. These are, I believe, the main objections to the present Corn-laws relied on by our opponents. In addition to arguments against these laws, they have the candour also to furnish us with predictions as to the happy consequences which will follow their repeal, predictions which might carry with them some authority, if unfortunately the results which they profess to foresee, were not exactly of an opposite character. That I may avoid all risk of misrepresentation, I will quote the very words in which the prophecies were conveyed. I begin with the Member for the Tower Hamlets, (Mr. Clay). He told us that
s. d. From 1765 to 1775 51 4 1775 to 1785 47 9 1785 to 1795 54 4Other of our chief articles of import, such as sugar, spices, tobacco, tea, wine, are objects of luxury, rather than of necessity—they are the produce like wise of limited portions of the globe, and those mostly distant from our shores; corn, on the contrary, forming the staple of human subsistence, there is scarcely any limit to the demand—if it were at a price within the reach of the labouring classes, and a great demand for our manufactures and full employment consequently afforded them the means of purchase. How wide too, were the regions, how vast the population, with which a free trade in corn would permit us to maintain a beneficial intercourse! There were few climates in which corn could not be produced, whilst it was almost the only staple which could be offered to us in exchange by countries, the vicinity of which would render commercial intercourse the most beneficial, and with which it was most important to us to 766 preserve friendly relations. Almost the whole of central and northern Europe, by soil and climate, was fitted for the production of corn; throughout the wide regions watered by the Elbe, the Weser, and the Vistula, corn may be grown with advantage, and would be grown for our use, if we would permit its importation.Here then would appear to be a boundless prospect of foreign supply. But what chance would domestic agriculture have of competing with these happy regions? Who would employ capital on domestic improvement when it could be transferred with such profit to fertilize the rich wastes of central and northern Europe? There we are told land pays scarcely any rent, labour is at the rate of five pence a day. Steam is diminishing every hour the distances which separate nations, and skill and machinery will stimulate to an increase of a hundred fold the natural capabilities of a neglected but most fertile soil. All this may be consolatory enough to the manufacturer, but it should be whispered into his ear exclusively, for it is calculated to fill with dismay the proprietor and occupier of land at home. For them, however, there are more encouraging predictions, and, fortunately, from higher authority. Without disparaging that of the Member for the Tower hamlets, still, from his position, from his avocation, from the habitual caution of his nature, and unwillingness to pronounce opinions not founded on the strictest inquiry, and maturest consideration, the Member for the City of London (Mr. Grote) is entitled to superior consideration. In the same ratio in which the City of London stands to the Tower Hamlets, is the authority of their respective representatives on the subject of the Corn-laws. And what says Mr. Grote?I have taken some pains to acquaint myself with the prices of foreign corn, and with the quantities which might be obtained at those prices; for these two circumstances ought on no account to be separated in looking at the question of the foreign corn trade,Mr. Crote then proceeds to explain the grounds on which his conclusions are founded, by reference to the prices of wheat at Dantzic and Odessa, and observes:It will be seen, therefore, that in estimating the probable import price under a free trade, assuming 1,000,000 quarters, at 45s. I make a large allowance for improvement and extension of culture in foreign lands. It is my impression, that under a perfectly free trade 767 in corn, a quantity of about 1,000,000 quarters would be supplied from abroad in ordinary years out of the 15,000,000 quarters which we habitually consume in these islands; and, that this supply would come at a price of about 45—s."If any confirmation were required to the views of the Member for the City of London, it is supplied by the Member for Sheffield, (Mr. Ward). He observes:What had the agriculturists to fear? When it was considered that wheat was a very bulky article, that but a very small proportion of it, comparatively on an average not more than 250 quarters, could be brought in one vessel; that the range of the exporting countries was very small, he could not understand what the agricultural interest had to apprehend from a change, which, besides, could not be brought into full operation till after a long series of years. Which were the exporting countries? France with a population of thirty millions, and a bad system of agriculture, arising greatly out of a too minute subdivision of land, could never be an exporting country to any considerable extent. Spain, and the other southern countries of Europe, from want of internal communications and other circumstances, could not for a very long period, if at all, export any very large quantity of wheat. From Belgium and Holland we had nothing to fear. Sweden and Norway did not grow sufficient for their own consumption. Coming to Russia and the Baltic, what were the facts? The largest exports from the Baltic in those excellent years, 1802, 1810, and 1818, with the price at Dantzic at 64s. 11d. never exceeded 680,000 quarters.Mr. Ward gives the prices of corn at Berlin, Dantzic, and other places, and the quantities exported to England at various periods, and remarks:—Corn Corn was cheaper, no doubt, at Odessa; but the amount of conveyance thence would be three times greater than in the other case; for, besides the freight, there would be the probable damage of much corn in the transit, not to mention that, even at Odessa, it was impossible to say what the price would be raised to, when the enormous amount of English demand came into the market there, where the supply was comparatively so limited. Besides, they had no stock, no farming implements, no manures, no well devised plan of cultivation, and a very small population.Now I am content to argue the question upon your positions and upon your statement of facts. The agriculturists, you say, need be under no apprehension from foreign imports. The Baltic is almost the only source of supply. The total quantity of foreign wheat which can be imported with a free trade in corn will not 768 exceed one million of quarters, and the price per quarter will be forty-five shillings. Why if this be so, what shameful exaggerations must there have been of the pressure and evil of the present Corn-laws? How perfectly baseless must be the anticipation that there will be a boundless demand for our manufactures in exchange for foreign corn, if the Corn-laws were repealed? Within the last eight or nine years, we have actually imported from foreign countries not less on an average than 750,000 quarters of wheat per annum, and is it credible that the regular future demand for one million of quarters, that is, 250,000 quarters in addition to the past supply, will produce these enormous benefits? Will it again gravely be maintained that the Corn-laws impose a tax of eighteen or twenty millions on the people of this country, when all we are to hope for from their repeal, is an addition of 250,000 quarters to our imports of foreign wheat; the sole difference consisting in a regular, instead of a casual and occasional demand for this supply? Is this to raise the prices on the continent to the level of prices at home? Is this to make a total revolution in the manufacturing industry of the continent, and to restore our pre-eminence by the destruction of foreign competition? Is the import of a little more wheat from the Baltic, to impede the progress in manufactures of France, Belgium, and Switzerland, not one of which countries, we are told, is to increase their demand for our commodities by the export of corn? If Saxony can really undersell us in hosiery by 25 per cent. will so slight a cause restore the balance? What influence will the additional import of Baltic wheat have on the United States, our most formidable competitor, so far as the manufacture of cotton is concerned? The increase in the consumption of cotton for the purpose of manufacture since the year 1826, has been estimated at
Can it be believed, looking at the present extent of our dealings in raw produce with the United States, that the import of a small additional quantity of corn will sensibly affect the relative position of the two countries, in respect to home manu- 769 facture? You taunt me with rejoicing in the successful prosecution of manufactures by other powers. I do not rejoice in it—I merely contend that it is the inevitable consequence of the return to peace, and the continuance of peace for nearly a quarter of a century. I do not participate in your surprise that a country like the United States, with the raw material at hand, as population increases, as towns and cities multiply, and as fertile land, easily accessible, becomes more scarce, should apply herself to the production of certain articles of manufacture. Your surprise reminds me of the Birmingham manufacturer, who prophesied, on the breaking out of war with England, that the crops of the United States would be devoured by vermin, because she had been supplied from Birmingham with mousetraps, and had not skill enough to manufacture a mouse-trap at home. I will now consider the objection urged against the present laws in respect to the fluctuation of the price of corn in the home market. A speech of Mr. Canning has been quoted, in which he stated, that the great object of the shifting scale of duties was, to insure steady prices, and expressed a confident hope that the prices of wheat would not vary more than from fifty-five to sixty-five shillings a quarter. The result has proved that it was unwise in Mr. Canning to attempt to prescribe exact limits to the range of variation; but it has not proved that either free trade, or a fixed duty would ensure a greater steadiness of price in an article so dependent upon the seasons as corn. Mr. Tooke, in his excellent treatise "On Prices," discusses the remarkable variations in the price of corn during a series of years, and mainly attributes the rise and fall of the price to the abundance or deficiency of supply caused by favourable or unfavourable seasons. Mr. Tooke shows that a similarity of seasons prevails throughout a large portion of the world, and that countries within the same degree of latitude are visited with nearly the same vicissitudes of prosperity and failure with respect to agricultural supply. He relies not only on his own authority, but on that of Adam Smith, of Mr. Burke, and of Mr. Lowe for the fact. Adam Smith speaking of the high price of corn between 1765 and 1776, attributes it to "the effect of unfavourable seasons throughout the greater part of Europe," and expressly 770 says that a long course of bad seasons, though not a very common event, is by no means a singular one. Mr. Tooke says, that there can be no reasonable doubt that bad seasons prevailed here, and, in a still greater degree, throughout the rest of Europe, in the interval between 1765 and 1776, and quotes the valuable works of Mr. Lowe, on the present state of England to the following effect:—
In France 40 per cent. In Europe, (exclusive of France 100 per cent. In the United States 160 per cent. In Great Britain 129 per cent.The public, particularly the untravelled part of the public, are hardly aware of the similarity of temperature prevailing through what may be called the corn country of Europe: we mean Great Britain, Ireland, the north of France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the north-west and north-east of Germany, and, in some measure, Poland. All this part is situated between 45 and 55 degrees of latitude, and subject, in a considerable degree, to the prevalence of similar winds.Mr. Lowe remarks on the smilarity of seasons in England and continental Europe, in several recent years which he names, in 1794, in 1798, in 1799. He says:—In 1811 the harvest was deficient throughout the north-west of Europe, from one and the same cause, namely, blight, while that of 1816 was still more generally deficient from rain, and want of warmth.Now, if you are right in maintaining that the shores of the Baltic will afford our chief supply, and if, in reliance on that supply, we diminish materially the production of corn at home, the misfortune of a generally deficient harvest may involve us in the greatest peril. In ordinary seasons, we may safely trust to a regular supply from abroad, and the discouragement of home production may not be seriously felt—but if the common calamity should arrive, (and Mr. Tooke and the highest authorities show that it ought to be foreseen) then we may have cause bitterly to repent our loss of independence, and to find that the encouragement we gave to home production, by restrictive duties, was a provident insurance against the dangers of famine. It will not be the hostility, it will not bet he caprice of foreign nations, that will withhold from us the usual supply; but the paramount duty they owe to their own people will induce them, in the moment of real pressure, to take the very step which France and other countries of Europe have actually taken within the last six months, and interdict the exportation of grain. Should 771 that event occur, it is possible that the wealth of England may command a considerable supply, but in proportion to the deficiency at home, in proportion to the suddenness of the demand, must be our exertions. According to your statements our chief dealings will he confined to the Baltic; Odessa and the United States are too distant to permit any regular import. We shall not then have encouraged, by our dealings with distant States in ordinary seasons, any superfluous supply, to be available in the moment of need. Should the corn-growing countries of the Baltic be visited, at the same time with ourselves, with a deficient harvest, we shall have to export bullion for the purchase of corn wherever we can find it, and thus encounter that every risk of deranging the money market, and suspending payments in cash, which you consider the peculiar defect of the present law. The more you increase your dependence on foreign supply, the more, as it appears to me, do you increase, in the event of severe and general pressure, the risk of a monetary derangement. I have been referring to the authority of Mr. Tooke, mainly for the purpose of she wing that the present Corn-law ought not to be condemned because it has not ensured steadiness of price; for, that under any system of law, in respect to an article so dependent as corn is upon the variableness of seasons, to an article, of which the supply cannot be suddenly limited, or extended (as it may be in the case of manufactures) in proportion to the demand, there must be unavoidably great fluctuations of price. The case of wool has been referred to by the President of the Board of Trade, and by the Secretary at War, (Lord Howick) as an example of the benefit to be expected from subjecting corn to similar regulations in respect to import. They are quite triumphant on the discovery, that since a fixed and very low duty was imposed upon the import of foreign wool, the price of wool in the home market has increased. But they never told us whether the price of wool had been more steady. Now, what is the fact? From 1819 to the end of 1824, there was a duty of sixpence per pound on foreign wool. From the 10th December, 1824 foreign wool has been importable without restriction, at a fixed duty of one penny per pound. Has the removal of protection increased the steadiness of price? Just the reverse—I quote the following 772 list of prices from a letter from Mr. Ellman, one of the highest authorities on the subject of wool, being the prices at which he disposed of his own wool, the best South downs, in a succession of years, before and after the reduction of the duty on foreign wool, from sixpence to one penny per pound. Price of Southdown wool.
Duty on foreign wool, being 1d. per lb.
In 1819 1 6 per lb. 1820 1 6 per lb. 1821 1 6 per lb. 1822 1 6 per lb. 1823 1 6 per lb. 1824 1 6 per lb. Duty on foreign wool, being 6d. per lb. In 1825 1 0 per lb. 1826 1 0 per lb. 1827 0 9 per lb. 1828 0 9 per lb. 1829 0 9 per lb. 1831 1 3 per lb. 1833 2 0 per lb. 1837 1 3 per lb. 1838 1 10 per lb.
Now, during the period above-mentioned, the import of foreign wool has increased from four or five millions to nearly forty millions of pounds, the sources of our supply have been greatly extended, trade has been perfectly free, duties almost nominal, and yet the price of wool in the home market, which was steady under the restrictive system, has been subject to very great fluctuation since its abandonment. If the argument from wool he at all applicable to corn—if the same result may be expected in the case of corn that has actually followed in the case of wool, what will be the consequence from a low fixed duty on foreign corn? Corn will be dearer in time home market, and the prices more unsteady. Is this the promised benefit to manufacturers on the one hand, and agriculturists on the other? A fixed duty on foreign corn will give you dearer bread and more unsteady prices. As a substitute for the existing laws we have two counter-proposals: the one for a repeal of all prohibitory duties—the other for the imposition of a fixed, in lieu of a fluctuating, scale of duty. The first recommended by the Member for Wolverhampton, the second by the President of the Board of Trade, and the Members of her Majesty's Government in this House.
Let us first consider the proposal of simple repeal. The Member for Wolver- 773 hampton says, that this is exclusively a landlord's question, that the landlord's interests are the only interests affected by it, that to the tenant it is a matter of indifference. He says the dealing in land, is like the dealing in any other commodity, the sale of a horse, or the sale of any retail article: that the landlord is a seller, the tenant a purchaser, with the free option for each to accept or reject the offer that may be made. But in the very same speech in which this position was maintained, there was a description of the farmer which seemed to except him from the ordinary condition of a perfectly voluntary agent and free purchaser. In that speech we were told that the farmers were a prejudiced body of men;—men strongly attached to localities and withal very ignorant. [Mr. Villiers—I said they had not much education]. Men who in dealing might be taken easy advantage of. The hon. Gentleman has not had much dealings with farmers, or he would not say that. Men of no in telligence. [Mr. Villiers—I did not say that.] Well, of little education—not men of business—much attached to localities—unable to transfer themselves and their capital to other pursuits. Why, that is what I rely on as constituting the distinction between dealing in land and purchasing an ordinary article. We are considering the interests of a class which, according to your own showing, consists of men without much education, not men of business, greatly attached to localities, apt to make engagements which are very unwise, and willing to agree to any terms which landlords may propose. Now, surely, if this be true, the present generation of farmers have a very deep interest in the question of the Corn-laws. The interest of those who cultivate the land under lease is manifest enough. But has the tenant at will no interest? Fixed by habit and attachment to the place of his birth,—unfit for mercantile affairs—unable to transfer his capital to other pursuits; could he contemplate without dismay any material reduction in the value of agricultural produce, or any material change in the relation which he bears to other classes of society? Could his interests be so distinguished from the interests of his landlord, that the latter would be the exclusive sufferer by a repeal of the Corn-laws? You tell the farmer, this simple credulous man, that it is mani- 774 festly his interest, and that of all other classes of the community, to buy corn at the cheapest market. He says, he cannot enter into competition with the foreign grower, whose land is more fertile, who commands labour at one-third of the rate, and who is free from the in cumbrances of public and local taxes to which he is subject. You reply to him, that because we bear one burthen that is no reason we should bear another; no reason why, because we are taxed heavily to pay the public creditor, we should voluntarily undertake another burden, by paying more for our bread. But, says the farmer, "Extend the same principle to everything else as well as to corn. Don't make me the sole victim of this excellent doctrine. Let me grow my own tobacco—let me manufacture and consume my own malt. Look at every article I wear, from the sole of my shoe to the crown of my hat—every thing is taxed, and taxed for the purpose of protection to manufactures—my shoes, my buttons, my hat, my gloves, my silk handkerchief, my watch, every article of manufactured linen. Whatever I require for domestic use is taxed. Gold and silver plate, paper, china, clocks, thread, pots, wax, wire, every letter of the alphabet presents some article of domestic manufacture protected by taxation from foreign competition. If it be right to buy corn in the cheapest market, it is right to buy every thing else; and if the article I sell is to exempt from protection, let the article I buy be exempt also." What answer have you for the farmer? Can you deny the justice of his appeal? Nay more, suppose the farmer asks you to begin with the manufacturer before you visit him, will his request be an irrational one? Suppose he says, "I am a man of little education, of limited views, not a man of business, little versed in the principles of political economy, and not very clearly comprehending the doctrine of free trade; spare me for the present, and make the first experiment on my neighbour the manufacturer. He is educated, intelligent, a man of business, not attached to localities, sees all the evils of restrictive duties, and is ready to waive the advantage of protection. I the more earnestly implore you to deal first with the manufacturer, for I greatly fear, if you begin with me, that you will discover hereafter, that the principles of free trade, though applicable to corn, are not applicable to 775 manufactures, that there are insurmountable difficulties in discriminating between duties for protection and duties for revenue, and that you will finally tell me, that the welfare of manufactures and of agriculture is inseparably united, and that it will be for the manifest advantage of agriculture, that the protecting duties on domestic manufactures should not be hastily withdrawn." These apprehensions, if so urged by the farmer, are clearly not without foundation, for no less an authority than the Prime Minister has declared, that, that man must be insane, must be actually a mad man, who would propose in the present condition of this country the abolition of all protective duties and the practical enforcement of the principles of free trade. Free trade in corn, however, is not the sole alternative. Her Majesty's Ministers prefer a fixed duty either to the fluctuating scale, or to the simple repeal of the Corn-laws. Now every argument against protection to home produce, such for instance as the policy of buying corn in the cheapest market, and the folly of adding to the incumbrance of the public debt, another incumbrance in the shape of a tax upon corn, applies in principle with equal force to the fixed, as to the fluctuating duty. The conflict between the advocates for free trade, and the advocates for fixed duty, will commence the very moment they have apparently triumphed over us. But what avails it to profess yourselves advocates for a fixed duty, unless you have determined on its amount. How easy it is for any noble Lord or hon. Member to say,—"I am opposed to the total repeal of the Corn-laws—I am opposed to the present laws—but I am in favour of a fixed duty." What advance do we make towards a settlement of this great question by this vague declaration? What advance can we make unless the amount of that fixed duty be stated. And yet we are called upon to go into committee in complete ignorance of the views of the advocates for fixed duty—in the hope, I suppose, that under the guidance of Mr. Bernal, we shall be inspired with that sagacity which is denied to us while the Speaker is in the Chair. If her Majesty's Government have made up their mind to the imposition of a fixed duty, why do they not state the amount of it to the House? Why do they not explain the principle and the calculations upon which it is to be founded? You invite us (ad- 776 dressing the Treasury Bench) to go into Committee on the application of an hon. Member, to whose views you are altogether opposed. The President of the Board of Trade, who I presume to be your organ on this occasion, says, "Let us go into Committee, and we shall have so many various plans, that we cannot fail to find one which will suit us. The smallest contribution will be thankfully received." Was it ever known on such an important question as this, one so engrossing to the public mind, so exciting to a large class of the population of the country, that a Government should propose to us to go into a Committee, rejecting the opinions of the Member who proposes it—and withholding from us the slightest indication of the course they mean to take in that Committee? I could have understood them had they said, "This question is of paramount importance, and it must be settled, we therefore come on the authority of a united Cabinet, and settle it we will." I could have understood them, if, on the other hand, they had declared, that there was no prospect of the settlement of the present question, that they looked upon continued agitation on the Corn-laws to be a great national evil, that it was their wish to calm rather than disturb the country, and that they would not therefore enter into a fishing committee, that they would not bait with delusion, in the hope of catching a Corn-bill. This course, also, I could have understood; but the course taken by the Government is inconsistent with its duty and authority; it prolongs agitation without affording the prospect of settlement. No doubt a Committee on the Corn-laws is a necessary form, before any practical measure could be proceeded with. But it is a mere form. Whoever advises it, should have made some advance towards the solution of the great difficulties which environ the consideration of the question, What is the amount of fixed protecting duty to which the agriculture of this country is entitled? He must have revolved in his mind, whether on the same principle on which a protecting duty on import is imposed—there ought not to be a corresponding drawback on the export of British corn—not a bounty—but a drawback, equivalent to those special burdens upon agriculture, to countervail which the import duty would be imposed. He must well have considered, whether 777 the indiscriminate admission of foreign corn at a fixed duty, to be determined irrevocably beforehand, might not in very productive seasons at home and abroad, pour into our markets such a glut of foreign produce, as completely to derange all agricultural speculations. Above all he must have considered, how the fixed duty is to be maintained in the seasons of deficient supply, and threatened famine—whether it is to be enforced at all hazards—whether it is to be relaxed under certain circumstances, and if so, by what authority, and on what conditions it shall be relaxed, and, after relaxation, reimposed. But these are considerations, if not subordinate, still subsequent to the fixing of the amount of the fixed duty. By what rule shall that amount be determined? I have read all that has been written by the gravest authorities on political economy on the subject of rent, wages, taxes, tithes, the various elements in short, which constitute or affect the price of agricultural produce. Far be it from me to depreciate that noble science which is conversant with the laws that regulate the production of wealth, and seeks to make human industry most conducive to human comfort and enjoyment. But I must, at the same time, confess, with all respect for that science and its brightest luminaries, that they have failed to throw light on the obscure and intricate question of the nature and amount of those special burdens upon agriculture which entitle it to protection from foreign competition; and I not only do not find in their lucubrations any solution of the difficulties, but I find the difficulties greatly increased by the conflict of authorities. After reading Adam Smith's doctrine concerning the rent of land, I find that Mr. Ricardo pronounces it erroneous, and that he totally differs from Adam Smith, as to rent forming one of the component parts of the price of raw produce. Adam Smith thinks, that the value of gold estimated in corn will be highest in rich countries; Mr. Ricardo, on the other hand, that it will be low in rich, and high in poor countries. Mr. M'Culloch discusses the question whether there are any peculiar burdens on agriculture. He observes that tithes, land tax, poor and other rates, are said to be such; and says as to tithes:—Two different opinions have been advanced. Dr. Smith contends, that tithes are 778 paid out of rent, and have no influence on the price of corn. Mr. Ricardo contends, that the amount of tithe occasions an equivalent rise in the price of corn.Mr. M'Culloch declares, that neither the one opinion nor the other is perfectly correct. I turn to the acute and valuable work of Colonel Torrens, treating expressly on the foreign corn trade, and the protection of home produce, and hope to find some reconcilement of the differences of those who had preceded him—some preponderance, at least, of agreement which may lead to a safe conclusion. But, alas! I learn from Colonel Torrens,That Adam Smith is fundamentally wrong in stating that corn has a real value which is always equal to the quantity of labour which it can maintain.Perhaps Colonel Torrens harmonises with the French economists. Far from it. He says:—That the doctrine of the French economists, as to the degree in which the cost of food influences the value of the manufactured article, is fundamentally erroneous, and cannot, in any possible state, be conformable to fact.Does he concur with Mr. Ricardo, or Mr. M'Culloch, or Mr. Malthus? Quite the reverse. He says:—Mr. Ricardo and his followers are quite wrong as to the doctrine of rent. That it is self-evident that Mr. M'Culloch cannot be right, in the opinion that the value of the farmer's capital rises in the same proportion with the value of the raw produce he brings to market. Not content with one refutation, he gives a second of the doctrine of Mr. Malthus, that the labourer is benefited by the high value of the articles composing wages.The very heads of Colonel Torrens's chapters are enough to fill with dismay the bewildered inquirer after truth. They are literally these:—Erroneous views of Adam Smith respecting the value of corn.Erroneous doctrine of the French economists respecting the value of raw produce.Errors of Mr. Ricardo and his followers on the subject of rent.Error of Mr. Malthus respecting the nature of rent.Refutation of the doctrines of Mr. Malthus respecting the wages of labour.Perplexed by these conflicting authorities, finding, as we proceed, our path more intricate and obscure, we turn for relief to her Majesty's Government, in the hope that from the eminence on which they are 779 placed they will be able, by their superior sagacity to illuminate the darkness and unravel the intricacies of our ways. But we turn in vain. They give us no comfortable assurances. The light they have, if any there be, they studiously withhold from us. They invite us to follow them, and yet they are the very men who have warned us to distrust the guides to whom they would commit us. Can we forget the letter of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), addressed to his constituents, cautioning them against the party—Who wish to substitute the corn of Poland and Russia for our own; who care not for the difference between an agricultural and manufacturing population in all that concerns morals, order, national strength, and national tranquillity; with whom wealth is the only object of speculation, and who have no more sensibility for the sufferings of a people than a general has for the loss of men wearied by his operations.The noble Lord admits the letter, but claims for himself the privilege of changing his opinion. I concede it to him in the fullest extent; but then the noble Lord always contrives to leave upon record so terse, so epigrammatic, so admirable a vindication of his old opinions, that he makes it difficult for his admirers to follow him at once in the adoption of the new ones. The noble Lord in his speech last night referred to an anecdote told of the great ornament of English art (Sir Joshua Reynolds), who after reviewing the productions of his earlier years, turned away from them with a candid expression of disappointment, that as life advanced, he had improved upon them in so slight a degree; and the noble Lord congratulated himself that he should escape, by timely change of opinion, the mortification of a similar avowal. Now the lapse of time may have given to the noble Lord more comprehensive views as a statesman, it may have matured his powers as a debater—but his lot as a painter is unquestionably the same with that of the great head of his profession. The graphic fidelity of his earlier sketches will never be surpassed, and when be reviews the gallery in which they are arranged he must turn away from the contemplation of them with the mortifying confession that the pencil of his maturer years has produced nothing to compare with them. Whatever be the department of art which he has selected, whether 780 historical, when he vindicates the Revolution of 1688, and justifies ths Somers's and the Russells for their hatred of papal intrigue and influence—whether fanciful, when in defence of Old Sarum, he likens the Reformer to the foolish servant in the story of Aladdin, who deceived by the cry of "new lamps for old," exchanged the "old lamp with magical powers for the burnished and tinsel article of modern manufacture;"—whether in the humbler department of portrait he sketches the political economist. [Mr. Hume, Oh! oh!] I am not surprised at the interruption, for you sat for the likeness, for the faithful resemblance of the harsh, cold-blooded economist regarding money as the only element of national happiness, feasting his eyes upon Poland in the back-ground able even "with her wretched ploughs, and wretched men and wretched horses" to drive us from the cultivation of inferior soils. No, Sir, the noble Lord has produced nothing since so happy as these vigorous and spirited designs—and when he now invites us to follow a political economist, can he be surprised if we are haunted by the recollection of the portrait which he himself drew, and the warning which he gave us to beware of trusting the original? If her Majesty's Government, on their responsibility as a Government, with a distinct declaration of their principles, and a full explanation of their views, were to call upon us to reconsider the Corn-laws and to remove the obstacle to the importation of foreign corn, we should be placed in a different position from that in which we now stand. Even then, while we might respect their motives, and the manliness of their course, we should pause. We should tell them there were higher considerations involved, than those of mercantile profit. We should doubt the policy of making this great country more dependent than it is on foreign supplies. Admitting that the extension of intercourse, by the reciprocation of benefits and the sense of common interests is a great guarantee for peace, still we should not implicitly rely on its efficacy. We should remember that within our own short experience the insane ambition of a single man, bent upon our destruction, had for many years overruled all the impediments which the love of gain, or the prosecution of peaceful industry among millions of men, could offer to his reckless course. We should find, even in the 781 present state of the world, in North America, in Spain, in the Gulf of Mexico, ample proof that the interests and the influence of commerce will not always ensure the peaceful arbitration of differences. Could you prove to us that the true principles of mercantile dealing required us to purchase corn in the cheapest market, and to withdraw the capital which has fertilized the inferior soils of this country, for the purpose of applying it to the rich but unprofitable wastes of Poland—still we should hesitate. We should remember with pain the cheerful smiling prospects which were thus to be obscured. We should view with regret cultivation receding from the hill-top, which it has climbed under the influence of protection, and from which it surveys with joy the progress of successful toil. If you convinced us that your most sanguine hopes would be realized—that this country would become the great workshop of the world—would blight through the cheapness of food, and the demand for foreign corn, the manufacturing industry of every other country—would present the dull succession of enormous manufacturing towns connected by railways, intersecting the abandoned tracts which it was no longer profitable to cultivate—we should not forget, admid all these presages of complete happiness, that it has been under the influence of protection to agriculture continued for two hundred years, that the fen has been drained, the wild heath reclaimed, the health of a whole people improved, their life prolonged, and all this not at the ex-pence of manufacturing prosperity, but concurrently with its wonderful advancement. If you had called on us to abandon this protection with all the authority of an united administration, with the exhibition of superior sagacity, and triumphant reasoning, we should have been deaf to your appeal; but when, inviting us to follow you, you present nothing but distracted councils, conflicting colleagues, statements of facts not to be reconciled, and arguments leading to opposite conclusions, then we peremptorily refuse to surrender our judgments to your guidance, and to throw the protection secured to agriculture by the existing law into the lottery of legislation, in the faint hope that we might by chance draw the prize of a better Corn Bill.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, amidst much clamour for a division or an adjournment, that as only one member from the manu- 782 facturing districts had addressed the House he hoped he should be allowed to say a few words. He could assure the House that he rose with great diffidence to reply to some of the observations of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth. The right hon. Baronet had urged as a proof that the manufacturers of Manchester were well off, that the exports had increased, and that the deposits in the Savings' Banks had increased. He did not deny that the deposits had increased, because although the masters had had little or no profit, the wages of the operatives had not, that he was aware of, been reduced. He held in his hand a statement shewing the quantity of cotton twist exported in each year, from 1815 to 1838, the declared value in each year, the average price per pound, the price of the raw cotton, and the amount left for wages, profit and expenses; also the price of wheat in this country as compared with the price of wheat at Dantzig. This table would show the House how the manufacturers had been treated as compared with the agriculturists. The hon. Member read the table as follows:—*
From this statement it appeared that, in 1815, 9,244,547 pounds of cotton twist were exported, that the declared value was 1,781,077l., the average price, per pound, 3s. 10d.; the price of the raw cotton ls. 9d., and that there remained for wages, capital, expences, and profit 2s. ld. per pound. The price of wheat being, at that time 63s. 8d. per quarter. In 1838 there were 113,753,197 pounds of twist exported, the declared value being 7,430,582l., the price per lb. was 1s. 3¾d.; the price of the raw cotton 9,½d., leaving only 6¼d. per lb. for labour, expenses, capital and profit for the artizan, spinner, and merchant. Going through the statement, it would be found that while exports had increased in quantity, the amount to cover wages for labour and profit had gradually decreased. In 1815 the amount was 2s. 1d. per lb.; in 1820 it was lessened to ls.; 4¾d. in 1830 it was reduced to 8d., and in 1838 to 6¼d., the average price of corn being 64s. 7d. per. quarter. In the profits of manufactured goods similar reductions had taken place. A piece of calico, which was worth in 1815, 19s. 8¾d. was in 1836 only worth 6s. In 1820 we exported* See Table, following page,783 248, 370, 630 yards of cotton goods, averaging 12¾d. per yard, the declared value being 13,193,529l. In 1836, 637,667,627 yards were exported, averaging 6½d. per yard, the declared value being 17,183,167l. Now, if the spinner had had the same amount per pound for labour and profit in 1838 that he had in 1815, he would have received in round numbers 6,000,000l. more than he did receive. And if the prices of manufactured goods in 1836 had been the same as in 1820, the extra amount received by the manufacturers would have been upwards of 16,000,000l. sterling. But what was the fact with regard to agriculture? The average price of wheat before the war, from 1780 to 1790 was 45s. 9d. per quarter, during the war it was upwards of 80s., and since 1815 the average might have been a little below 60s. per quarter. Agricultural improvements had increased the produce very
|* COTTON TWIST AND YARN EXPORTED FROM GREAT BRITAIN TO FOREIGN COUNTRIES.|
|Years.||Lbs.||Declared value.||Average per lb.||Price of Cotton.||For Capital Labour and Profit per lb.||Price of Wheat per qr.||Price of Wheat per qr. At Dantzic.|
§ considerably, rents had been doubled since 1790, and the price of corn in France, on an average of twenty years, had been fifty per cent. lower than in England. Thus, notwithstanding all the improvements in agriculture, prices had been kept up, but all the improvements in machinery had been used, not for the benefit of those engaged in manufactures, but transferred to other parties, prices being continually reduced to meet foreign competition. The consequences of this depreciation had been, that agriculturists now received three pieces of calico instead of one for the same quantity of food, our operatives in factories had been compelled to work long hours in order to compete with foreigners, our machinery was exported in large quantities, artizans were leaving the country, and if the Corn-laws were not repealed our manufacturers would transfer their capital to other 785 countries, and the land-owners would be left to pay the national debt, and to support the poor, who by mistaken policy would be deprived of employment.
§ The original question and the amendment were put amidst loud cries of "go on!" "divide!" and "adjourn!"
§ Lord John Russell
said, that he certainly did hope that the House would be able to come to a decision upon this question to night; and he really knew not why the debate should not continue, if the House would only listen with patience to those hon. Members who might wish to address any observations to their consideration. At all events, he must say, without reference to this question in particular, that the postponing the debate to Monday would be of the greatest possible inconvenience to the public service, and he could not possibly consent to such a course in the present state of the votes of the House. Seeing, therefore, no difficulty in proceeding with the debate this evening, and that the hour was not too late to admit of that being done, and also that the subject had already been debated during four nights, he hoped that the House would not consent to another adjournment.
§ Mr. Fielden
was understood to say, that by the regulations of the House, any Member had a right to express his opinions upon any particular subject under discussion, and he had not hitherto had an opportunity of addressing the House. It was said, that the adjournment to Monday would interrupt the course of public business, but he knew no other question so important for the country as that now before the House, and he thought that the proper settlement of it would be of the greatest importance for the prosperity and happiness, or the misery of the country. Therefore it was that he proposed that the debate should be adjourned; but, at the same time, if it would be more convenient for the noble Lord, he would postpone the day of its coming under consideration to Tuesday. He thought the debate ought to be adjourned, and he would divide the House upon the question.
§ Mr. W. S. O'Brien
rose amidst the greatest confusion, and was not heard for several minutes. He said, that although he was not one of those who desired that 786 the debate should be adjourned, yet he thought that it would appear very singular that, while the people of Ireland were most especially interested in the subject of the discussion, only one Irish Member had been permitted to address the House in reference to it. He was anxious to take this opportunity of letting it be understood in Ireland that many of the Representatives of that country had, like him, been attending in their seats in that House during the four nights' debate, with a view to express their opinions, but in vain. He knew that it would be useless for him, on such an occasion as the present, and at this hour of the night, to attempt to proceed, and he, therefore, entered his protest against this, he would say, contempt of the country to which he belonged.
§ After some confusion the House divided on the question of adjournment:—Ayes 61; Noes 475—Majority 414.
§ Lord John Russell
thought that the House was ready to come to a decision that night. They had already discussed the subject for four nights, and if hon. Members were anxious to address the House, he had no doubt but that it would listen attentively to their observations. He hoped, however, that the House would agree to come to a decision that night.
§ After a brief discussion, the House again divided on the question of adjourning to Tuesday:—Ayes 53; Noes 373.
§ It was finally settled, after some confusion, one hon. Member proposing to adjourn the debate for six months, that the debate should be adjourned to Monday.